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GROUNDBREAKING HEART TREATMENT FOR DOGS LAUNCHED

Our world-renowned cardiology team is leading the veterinary industry by pioneering a groundbreaking procedure to tackle heart disease in dogs.

Willows is currently the only centre in the UK, and one of just a very few in the world, offering the innovative transcatheter edge-to-edge mitral valve repair (TEER).  

A minimally invasive heart procedure, TEER has been specifically developed for the treatment of Myxomatous Mitral Valve Disease (MMVD), which is the most common heart disease seen in dogs.

RCVS and European Specialist in Small Animal Cardiology Simon Swift heads our industry-leading Cardiology team, which also includes RCVS and European Specialists Fabio Sarcinella and Siddharth Sudunagunta.

Simon explained: “MMVD occurs when the mitral valve, which divides the left side of the heart into top and bottom chambers (atrium and ventricle respectively), starts leaking and creates a heart murmur.

“The leak can gradually become larger and, in the long term, often leads to dilation of the left-sided chambers.

“In time, the pressure in the left atrium starts rising and ultimately leads to development of fluid in the lungs, known as congestive heart failure or pulmonary oedema.

“Transcatheter edge-to-edge mitral valve repair (TEER) is already considered an alternative to surgical repair in human patients and there have been some very promising early clinical results in dogs.

“We are incredibly excited to be pioneering this TEER procedure at Willows in the treatment of dogs affected by advanced mitral valve disease.

“The procedure is performed under general anaesthesia through a small incision in the chest wall.

“Access within the beating heart is achieved by a needle puncture at the apex of the heart which is highlighted by continuous X-ray images and an ultrasound of the heart via a probe placed in the oesophagus.

“This allows correct positioning of a V-clamp across the mitral valve to reduce the amount of leakage.

“It’s a procedure that delivers meaningful results and an improved quality of life and, because it’s a minimally invasive process, patients are typically discharged from hospital within two days.”

The first TEER procedure carried out here at Willows was to treat Chester, a 10-year-old Havanese.

Fabio Sarcinella was part of our truly multi-disciplinary treatment of Chester and said: “In order to be accredited to perform this procedure at Willows, our Cardiology, Soft Tissue and Anaesthesia teams underwent a lengthy training process.  

“Our Cardiologists also visited Colorado State University and Hongyu medical headquarters in Shanghai for further training and to assist with procedures.

Chester, the first patient to undergo a pioneering TEER procedure at Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service

“In the case of Chester, our first TEER procedure carried out here at Willows, a multi-disciplinary meeting involving Cardiologists, Anaesthetists and Soft Tissue Surgeons was held a few days before the procedure to ensure everyone was confident with the different steps of this challenging intervention and that all necessary equipment was available on the day.

“On the day of the procedure, Chester was supported by the presence in theatre of two Anaesthetists, two Soft Tissue Surgeons, three Cardiologists and three Cardiology nurses.

“During the procedure, state-of-the-art transoesophageal and fluoroscopy imaging guidance was used for the successful outcome of this surgery. “While recovering in our ICU, Chester was under the care of one of our emergency and critical care specialists and we’re delighted to say has made an excellent recovery.”

DERMATOLOGY SPECIALIST JOINS EXPERT TEAM AT WILLOWS

We are starting the year with the exciting announcement that we have expanded our Specialist Dermatology team, making Willows the only referral centre in the UK to be home to two Dermatology Specialists.  

A head and shoulders image of a woman in veterinary scrubs smiling at the camera.

Tania Nunes Rodrigues, EBVS® European and RCVS Specialist in Veterinary Dermatology, has joined our team, where she will be working with our Head of Dermatology, Richard Harvey and other Specialist-led disciplines here at Willows.  

After graduating from Faculdade de Medicina Veterinaria, University of Lisbon, in Portugal, in 2010, Tania moved to the UK in 2012, to work at a busy mixed practice in Lincolnshire.  

She began focusing on Dermatology at a referral practice in Merseyside in 2013 and, five years later, began a three-year Dermatology residency at Gent University in Belgium. In 2019, she obtained the Certificate of Advanced Veterinary Practice in Dermatology. 

In 2022, Tania, whose main interests include atopy, immune-mediated conditions and ear disease, became a diplomate of the European College of Veterinary Dermatology.  

Tania said: “I am deeply passionate about improving the quality of life for my patients and am delighted to be joining such a renowned referral centre as Willows.  

“I will continue to develop my Dermatology knowledge to ensure our patients continue to receive the very best care possible.”  

Richard said: “It’s great to have such an experienced Specialist joining the team here at Willows and I’m looking forward to working with Tania.  

“She has a wealth of experience in Dermatology and will be a hugely important team member.”  

Outside of work, Tania enjoys spending time with her two cats and loves exploring new places, parks and culture. 

LIFE SWEET AGAIN FOR OREO AFTER SPECIALIST-LED KEYHOLE SURGERY

Our industry-leading soft tissue specialists displayed all of their expert keyhole surgery skills when carrying out a lifesaving procedure on a beloved pet labrador.

Eleven-year-old Oreo was referred to us here at Willows for treatment of an adrenal mass, with our state-of-the-art small animal hospital one of just a few across the UK able to carry out the highly complex keyhole procedure used to remove the tumour.

The successful operation was led by Erika Villedieu, EBVS® European Specialist in Small Animal Surgery, and Will Robinson, EBVS® European Specialist and RCVS Specialist in Small Animal Surgery, while anaesthetic was monitored by our specialist-led anaesthesia team in a truly multi-disciplinary approach.

Initially, Oreo had been referred to us for treatment after the adrenal mass was picked up incidentally during an ultrasound, after his owners noticed he was getting tired before eventually collapsing.

Following his referral, swift action was required as a CT scan showed the mass was invading into a nearby blood vessel, and Oreo’s blood pressure was also increasing.

Due to the size and location of the mass, along with Oreo’s advancing years, the team decided a keyhole procedure was the best course of action rather than a more intrusive operation.

Erika explained: “The advanced surgery involved four small incisions, 1-2cm long, on the side of Oreo’s abdomen to allow passage of a camera and three instruments.

“The mass could be successfully removed through the keyhole approach, avoiding a large incision into the abdomen as is normal for standard surgery.”

Such was the success of the operation that Oreo was able to return home to his grateful owners the day after surgery. He has been recovering well and been able to enjoy short walks with his brother, Crumble.

Oreo’s owner Marie Herbert White, who lives near Evesham in Worcestershire, and recently lost another of her much-loved labradors to cancer, said: “Oreo has been part of our family since he was seven weeks old.

“Given his age and the location of the mass, we weren’t sure we wanted to put him through an operation. If keyhole hadn’t been an option, I’m not sure we would have gone ahead.”

Erika added: “We are delighted the procedure was a success and that Oreo is making a speedy recovery at home with his brother.”

Oreo, a black labrador, resting on a sofa at home. His side is shaved and he has dressings over the site of his surgery.

SPECIALIST EMERGENCY AND CRITICAL CARE BOOST FOR WILLOWS

Our new emergency and critical care specialist here at Willows has spoken of the need for fast action but cool heads in dealing with emergency cases.

Fernanda Camacho is a member of our specialist-led Emergency and Critical Care (ECC) service and just qualified as a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. 

She has now given a graphic insight into life inside the ECC service, explaining: “Emergency situations are usually very hands-on types of cases initially and then develop into complex, critical care cases which require ongoing help in ECC.

“You need to be able to cope with the fast pace of the emergency room, the need for quick decision-making and have the ability to multi-task calmly and efficiently.

“It means ECC is a very demanding environment, but it is also a very rewarding speciality, too.

“I still remember my very first case of severe septic shock (a life-threatening condition) and my first case on mechanical ventilation (life support).

“I was a young intern but they are still the most memorable cases as both made me realise how much I love this discipline. 

“We spend a lot of time with our patients because they are very sick, and each case occupies a special place in our hearts because they are in our care for so long.

“Seeing them improve and recover is very satisfying but even when things don’t go well, we know we absolutely did our maximum to help those pets.”

Fernanda will be able to help even more now, after recently earning prestigious specialist status.

She added: “Becoming a specialist has been a long journey that started six years ago, and it is by far the biggest achievement in my professional career. 

“I celebrated by having dinner with friends, followed by a lot of tears on the telephone with my family and friends in different parts of the world. 

“Now, I have a new focus and that is on building the ECC service at Willows alongside our head of service, Poppy Gant. It’s a great project and an exciting challenge.”

Willows’ clinical director Jon Wray has been quick to acknowledge and applaud Fernanda’s elevation to specialist.

He said: “I’m delighted Fernanda has passed her examinations and is now a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. “Huge congratulations to Fernanda for a thoroughly well-deserved achievement. It’s brilliant news and everyone at Willows is thrilled.”

TINY PUPPY’S HUGE LIFE-CHANGING SURGERY

A dachshund puppy born with a defective palate is now all smiles after life-changing surgery here at Willows.  

The miniature wire-haired dachshund, called Frieda, was just three months old when she began suffering from recurring infections in her nose and breathing difficulties, resulting in several courses of antibiotics.

Little Frieda was also struggling to eat and drink so was referred to our team for specialist care.

Our head of soft tissue surgery Chris Shales operated to rectify Frieda’s problem and “worked a miracle” according to thankful owner William Russell.

William, who lives in Oxfordshire with partner Claudia Heidebluth and their baby daughter Leonora, said: “Willows confirmed Frieda was suffering from soft palate hypoplasia and explained the problem with clarity.

“They said her soft palate was completely undeveloped on one side, causing food and mucus to get stuck and become infected. She also had a defective tonsil and her tongue was tethered on one side.

“We were greatly saddened. Frieda was so strong and, otherwise, such a happy and loving dog.

“Willows also managed our expectations, making it clear an operation on Frieda might not be able to solve this difficult problem.

“Naturally, we were very worried. Whilst hopeful, we also prepared for the worst, knowing she could not spend a life on antibiotics.

“However, the operation was a success, and soft tissue surgeon Chris Shales worked a miracle.

“He extended her palate by two centimetres on the side where it had not grown. He also removed the defective tonsil and freed her tongue so it could move properly.

“We’re so grateful. Chris did a stunning job and handled Frieda with utmost professionalism and kindness.

“His knowledge and experience enabled him to solve a difficult problem. We also hope it has advanced the understanding of the defect, so others can now benefit, too.”

Frieda the dachshund puppy in the arms of her owner

Chris, an EBVS and RCVS specialist in small animal surgery, said: “Frieda is a lovely little dog and was a fantastic patient.

“Soft palate hypoplasia is not very common and can be quite debilitating depending on the extent of the deformity.

“In Frieda’s case, there were multiple abnormalities in the area that had combined to cause her clinical signs. We spent a little time assessing the details of the anatomy to understand her anatomy and then addressed each abnormality in turn.

“We have been thrilled with Frieda’s recovery and are not surprised to see how photogenic she is in these images!”

WILLOWS GOES GREEN WITH TOP ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD

The team here at Willows are delighted to have earned prestigious recognition for our outstanding efforts to create an environmentally-friendly workplace. 

We have recently received a Green award from Investors in the Environment (iiE), the national accreditation scheme for businesses working to reduce their carbon footprint. 

The Green award is iiE’s highest accolade and is awarded to companies which have made significant reductions in energy use and waste, along with increases in efficiency, recycling and sustainability. 

Following our recent £35,000 investment in a deluxe compressor and state-of-the-art oxygen generator system, we have now received the iiE’s top accolade just a year after earning a silver award from the scheme.

Other measures we have adopted and introduced as part of our work with the iiE include switching all lighting to LED energy-saving lights by the end of 2021, creating new waste streams and reducing single-use items, such as saving 4,000 surgical hats from going to landfill by providing all clinical team members with washable hats.

The commitments made by the team have seen significant results, with an eight per cent overall drop in electricity usage across the hospital, a seven per cent fuel reduction and a 12 per cent rise in recycling with the hospital now creating 14 tonnes a year of recycling.

David Hindley, facilities manager at Willows, has helped lead our ongoing eco-friendly work as part of the our ‘Green Giants’ group.

He said: “We’re all absolutely delighted to have achieved this prestigious Green award from the iiE and I’m over the moon the team’s hard work and dedication to creating a more environmentally friendly hospital has been recognised.

“As part of our commitment to the environment, our Green Giants group is continually looking at how we can reduce our carbon footprint.

“The most recent action was the investment in a state-of-the-art oxygen generator system, which will enable us to not only reduce our carbon footprint courtesy of no longer requiring a HGV delivery up to four times a week, but it will also support the future-proofing of our hospital by ensuring we are no longer reliant on external suppliers for deliveries of oxygen.
 
“As well as this major investment, we have made wide-ranging and continuous changes across the hospital which have resulted in a significant reduction in our environmental impact.”

Toby Gemmill, managing director at Willows, said: “We are very happy to have been awarded Green status by iiE, their highest award for environmental advances in business. 

“To receive such high praise is fantastic news and a real testament to the important changes our team have introduced to cut our carbon footprint and improve our efficiency. 

“Well done to Dave, our ‘Green Giants’ and the whole team for driving this. To achieve such a successful outcome has taken a truly united effort, with every member of the team playing their part to earn this recognition.

“We are now already looking at new ways to make further improvements to build on this award.” 

Ellie West, environmental sustainability lead at Linnaeus, was quick to congratulate Willows for being the fourth Linnaeus practice to achieve the coveted Green iiE award.

She said: “Huge congratulations to Willows, Dave and the Green Giants team on this very well deserved Green award. I am incredibly proud of everyone there for their tireless commitment to implementing eco-friendly measures over a prolonged period of time and this recognition is just reward for their dedication.”

HOLLY NETS NEW POST AS PART OF WILLOWS PHYSIO TEAM

Top netball player Holly Finelli is aiming high after achieving her goal of joining our expert veterinary physiotherapy team here at Willows.  

Holly, who plays for Barr Beacon in Division One of the West Midlands League, has joined the internationally-renowned Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service, in Solihull.   

While she has international pedigree of her own, having played under-16s netball against Jamaica and Wales at the NEC in 2012, Holly has also earned a first-class honours degree in Veterinary Physiotherapy and a Level 4 Certificate in Canine Hydrotherapy.   

Holly said she was now enjoying being part of the specialist-led team here at Willows, delivering the best possible care to our patients.  

She said: “My key responsibilities are to provide physiotherapy assessments for neurological and orthopaedic inpatients and producing physiotherapy plans for them.  

“My other key responsibility is to provide outpatient physiotherapy care to both internal and external referrals.  

“I am particularly looking forward to working with inpatients, as this was not possible in my previous role. It will be extremely rewarding to see patients from their first day post-surgery all the way through to full recovery.  

“I’m also sure that working alongside so many specialists will enable me to learn from their expertise to improve and develop my skills as a physiotherapist.  

“Having the opportunity to watch orthopaedic and neurological surgeries will give me a greater understanding and allow me to provide higher quality post-operative care.”  

Holly has a real passion for physiotherapy and pinpoints one of her early cases as highlighting the incredible benefits of the care she can offer.  

She said: “Physiotherapy aims to stimulate the body’s natural healing process, reduce pain and restore mobility and function.  

“One of my most rewarding cases to date was using physiotherapy for the conservative management of a Japanese Spitz puppy with luxating patella (dislocating kneecap).  

“The puppy was too young for surgery as he was not fully grown, so physiotherapy was used in the interim to improve the patient’s quality of life and to provide prehab before the surgery.  

“However, the physiotherapy was so successful that once the patient was fully grown, surgery was no longer required.”  

To find out more about our expert Physiotherapy team click here.

WILLOWS CONTINUES SUSTAINABILITY QUEST WITH OXYGEN GENERATOR

Willows has rubberstamped our commitment to the environment with the introduction of an in-house oxygen generator.  

We have recently invested £35,000 in a deluxe compressor and state-of-the-art oxygen generator system as part of an ongoing eco-friendly campaign which has already seen our team earn prestigious national accreditation.

Last year, we earned a silver award from Investors in the Environment (iiE), the second-highest honour from the national accreditation scheme, and by purchasing and installing this hi-tech oxygen generator, we will save around 150 HGV deliveries of bottled oxygen a year alone.

The installation is the latest in a long line of eco-friendly measures installed at our hospital, which has a ‘Green Giants’ group who lead our sustainability ambitions.

CARBON FOOTPRINT

David Hindley, Facilities Manager here at Willows, said we were among the first referral centres in the country to use in-house oxygen generators for 100 per cent of its core delivery, adding: “As part of our commitment to the environment, our Green Giants group is continually looking at how we can reduce our carbon footprint.
 
“The last two years in particular have demonstrated how dependent we have been on oxygen bottles delivered to us and how fragile the supply chain can be when affected by unprecedented events such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As part of our commitment to excellence, and to uphold our reputation as a world-leading referral centre, we are incredibly excited to announce we have invested £35,000 in a deluxe compressor and state-of-the-art oxygen generator system.

“This will enable us to not only reduce our carbon footprint courtesy of no longer requiring a HGV delivery up to four times a week, but it will also support the futureproofing of our hospital by ensuring we are no longer reliant on external suppliers for deliveries of oxygen. 

An image of an Atlas Copco Oxygen Generator

ATLAS COPCO

“Our new Atlas Copco oxygen generator has been providing the hospital with high-quality oxygen without the use of gas bottles seamlessly.”

Ellie West, environmental sustainability lead at Linnaeus, said the fact Willows now has an in-house oxygen generator was a point of difference in terms of reducing its carbon footprint from operations.

She said: “Whilst oxygen generators consume electricity, the carbon emissions from transport deliveries and manufacture of oxygen are likely to be far higher. This set-up models a way that our sector can move towards sustainable practices in even the largest of practice types.”

Other measures which have been adopted and introduced as part of our eco-friendly work with the iiE include switching all lighting to LED energy-saving lights by the end of 2021, creating new waste streams and reducing single-use items, such as saving 4,000 surgical hats from going to landfill by providing all clinical team members with washable hats. The commitments made by the Willows team have seen significant results, with an eight per cent overall drop in electricity usage across the hospital, a seven per cent fuel reduction and a 12 per cent rise in recycling with the hospital now creating 14 tonnes a year of recycling.

RVN TAKES UP HOSPITAL DIRECTOR ROLE AT AWARD-WINNING WILLOWS

We are delighted to announce the appointment of a highly experienced RVN and Nursing Manager as our new Hospital Director.

Tom Reilly has taken up the management role here at Willows having joined from our parent company Linnaeus, where he was Referral Field Nursing Manager.

The appointment is not Tom’s first experience with Willows, however, after he first joined us back in 2011 as a member of our Medicine and High-dependency RVN team.

Tom subsequently established the role of Patient Flow Manager, before working as Deputy Nurse Manager and then moving to head of Clinical Support Services in 2019, during which time he also led our efficiency group.

Tom moved from Willows in 2021 to take up the referral nursing manager position with Linnaeus, which entailed overseeing nursing across Linnaeus’s 17 UK referral sites.

His return to us caps a remarkable career journey and highlights once again Linnaeus’s commitment to opening up a broad spectrum of career pathways for its nursing community across the group.

Tom said: “I am really pleased and privileged to be returning to Willows to work alongside the amazing Hospital team.

“The opportunity to undertake this role highlights Linnaeus’ commitment and progressive outlook to veterinary nursing as a profession.”

Willows Managing Director Toby Gemmill said he was delighted to welcome Tom ‘back home’ to the practice, which was voted Best UK Referral Centre winner at this year’s Best UK Vet awards.

He said: “I am incredibly excited Tom will be ‘coming home’ to Willows as our new Hospital Director.

“He will play a vital role in leading the Hospital forward over the coming years and will without doubt be an absolutely outstanding addition to our team.”

Tom is also an RSPCA trustee, has been involved with BVNA as a council member and on the advisory board, has sat on the BSAVA Congress and programme committees, and was chairman of BSAVA Congress from 2021-22.

SAFEGUARDING ANTIBIOTICS

Why do we need to keep antibiotics working?

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria mutate and adapt to reduce the effects of antibiotics. Antibiotics can also affect ‘good bacteria’ and cause harm.

New antibiotic drugs are not easy to develop, so we need to preserve the efficiency of the drugs we have. Antibacterial resistance is a global One Health concern for People, Planet and Pets; there are implications from antibiotic overuse for human and animal health and welfare, for climate change and for biodiversity.

Antibiotics are only effective against some types of bacterial infections and will not work against viral infections. Following your veterinary surgeons’ advice on medication is essential to ensure long-term access to antibiotics that work for us and our pets.

What is the veterinary sector doing?

Through ongoing efforts in the veterinary and agricultural sectors, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate reported a reduction in antibiotics in food-producing animals in the UK of 52%, and in dogs and cats of 23%, over the six years between 2014 and 2020. 

There are many organisations actively involved in antibiotic stewardship and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has collated resources for veterinary professionals in its RCVS Knowledge AMR hub.

What is our Hospital doing?

Linnaeus practices recognise the importance of antibiotic stewardship, and our veterinary professionals are active in responsible pharmaceutical stewardship programmes. Our small animal veterinary teams use BSAVA PROTECT posters to guide antibiotic choices. In 2022, our vets are using audits and team discussions to implement best practice guidelines created by our Linnaeus Clinical Board experts for the treatment of acute canine uncomplicated diarrhoea.

In 2021, we released a series of Safeguarding Antibiotics posters and videos to explain antimicrobial resistance and what our vets and owners can do to support antibiotic stewardship.

What can owners do?

Fergus Allerton, Linnaeus Antibiotics Expert, has created a short educational animation, which was part of a research project demonstrating significant changes in owner’s attitudes after watching the video – you can view it below to understand your role as an antibiotic steward.

For World Antimicrobial Awareness Week in November 2022, Linnaeus veterinary practices will be joining with NHS pharmacies in the Midlands and other veterinary groups to encourage owners to return unused or out-of-date antibiotics for appropriate disposal. All medicines prescribed for humans can be returned to your local NHS pharmacy. 

Look out for non-prescription pads that our small animal veterinary teams use to help our clients understand antibiotic stewardship. If your pet is not improving after your visit to see the veterinary surgeon, if new symptoms are observed or if you have further concerns, we always encourage you to call or visit the practice.

For more information about Linnaeus Safeguarding Antibiotics actions, please visit www.linnaeusgroup.co.uk/about-us/sustainability