Gaemia Tracy, DVM is a veterinarian that is part of the neurology team at the New Jersey clinic, Northstar VETS. Dr. Gaemia Tracy of NorthStar VETS is the only doctor on the east coast trained to perform the Percutaneous Laser Disc Ablation (PLDA) procedure, which is performed for preventing thoracolumbar intervertebral disc herniation in dogs. Currently, Northstar VETS is only one of four hospitals in the United States offer this procedure. Goodnewsforpets spoke with Dr. Tracy about the procedure, what signs pet parents can look for that may mean a neurological problem in their pets and what were some of his favorite holiday success stories.
What influenced your decision to become a veterinarian?
I first wanted to become a veterinarian just from having a dog when I was little and going to veterinary appointments and seeing what they did with her. I watched them work with her and they let me follow them around a little bit, and that’s what piqued my interest. I ended up going for my undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, veterinary school at Ohio State, an internship in Charlotte, North Carolina at Carolina Veterinary Specialists, and a Neurology residency in Jacksonville, Florida.
What in particular made you want to specialize/focus on small animal medicine and surgery?
Clinical rotations and my mentors in veterinary school helped me make the decision to specialize in small animal medicine/surgery. The medicine and surgical specialists at The Ohio State University do amazing things and perform progressive procedures to help household pets and, in turn, help the overall quality of life of the pet parent and strengthen the human-animal bond. Specializing in small animal medicine/surgery was the best way I figured I could use my God-given personality and skills to help pets and pet owners.
Your professional interests include Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), spinal surgery, management of seizures and inflammatory diseases of the brain and spinal cord. What draws your interest to these particular topics?
The thing I enjoy most about being a neurologist is the ability to utilize surgery and medicine to help pets with neurologic disease. My interests reflect this. I also love the ever-evolving and progressive nature of treatment for neurologic diseases…especially the ones that I have listed as my special interests.
What are some symptoms of neurological problems that pet parents should be look for in their pets?
Veterinary Neurology is about working with diseases of the brain and spinal cord. So for pet parents, when they see that their pet that can’t walk correctly due to weakness or disconnect between the brain and spinal cord, their pet should be seen. We also see pets for seizures, ataxia, and difficulty walking. We treat patients either medically or surgically.
Can you tell us more about what pet parents should know about Percutaneous Laser Disc Ablation (PLDA) procedure for the treatment of preventing thoracolumbar intervertebral disc herniation in dogs?
Percutaneous Laser Disc Ablation (PLDA) is a procedure for preventing thoracolumbar intervertebral disc herniation in dogs. A study by Dugal et. al. at Oklahoma State University in 2016 showed that the procedure significantly reduced the chance of a future disc herniation from twenty-five percent down to ten percent, with 92.7 percent of clients rating their satisfaction with the procedure a nine or ten out of ten.
How do pets parents find out if their pet is at risk for thoracolumbar intervertebral disc herniation? What are the signs or symptoms?
This procedure is ideal for chondrodystrophic (dwarf) breeds like Dachshunds, Beagles, Bassett Hounds, French Bulldogs, and other small breeds predisposed to disc herniations. Dogs eligible for this procedure must be an at-risk breed, and pain-free for the last two weeks. The procedure can be done prophylactically, meaning that a prior diagnosis of back pain is not necessary.
How does the Percutaneous Laser Disc Ablation (PLDA) procedure helps pets?
Open back surgery has a long and difficult recovery time for pets, but this procedure avoids all that. Small spinal needles are inserted into the dog’s disc space, where a fiber-optic laser as thin as a hair is inserted through the needle down into the nucleus of the disc. Energy through the laser liquifies the nucleus of the disc, reducing the chances of a future herniation. The procedure takes about an hour, and when it’s done, there are no cuts or stitches in the dog’s vertebrae, muscle or skin. That means that this minimally-invasive procedure significantly cuts down on recovery time. In fact, most dogs go home the next day for two weeks of rest and leash walks.
Can you share some holiday heartwarming feline success stories you’ve worked on while at NorthStar VETS?
Andy Flickstein is a 7 year old male neutered cat. After being rescued in Toronto along with his brother, Lou, he has become a well-loved member of the family. Andy’s mom said, “He is incredibly special because his purpose has been to stitch my broken heart back together after the sudden loss of my baby ( Bailey ). No one could do a better job than Andy. He is the love of my life.”
He presented for acute inability to walk in all 4 legs (weaker on the left side). An MRI showed a hyper intensity in the cervical spinal cord consistent with meningitis or a spinal stroke. The spinal tap revealed that it was likely a spinal stroke. With a short course of steroids, pain medication, and supportive care Andy is now walking again and he is very comfortable! He is not normal yet, but after 2 weeks he is able to walk around and even jump onto his favorite elevated cat bed! No surgery was needed to get Andy back on the road to recovery. Andy’s mom has sent us great videos of his progress at home.
Can you share some holiday heartwarming canine success story you’ve been involved with while at NorthStar VETS?
Duke Dragos is a 3 year old male neutered Black Labrador Retriever. Duke was purchased from a breeder as a puppy and privately trained. He is a service dog for a young girl named Emily who has mild cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and an unknown genetic syndrome, along with other medical issues. Duke is able to detect a seizure in Emily before it happens. Emily not only relies on Duke to help with her mobility, but he is also her best friend and companion.
Duke has a history of suspected diabetes insipidus that has been treated by the Internal Medicine team at NorthStar VETS. He began having grand-mal seizures last month. His MRI revealed that his brain was normal and the spinal tap was normal. He has been treated with Phenobarbital and has had no seizures since treatment was initiated and he is living a good life at home.
The family received a grant for care from Vet-i-Care foundation and have started a GoFundMe at https://www.youcaring.com/emilyrosedragos-1025532 to help pay for the dog’s future care.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Currently, only four hospitals in the United States offer the PLDA procedure. Dr. Gaemia Tracy of NorthStar VETS is the only doctor on the east coast trained to perform PLDA. If your family veterinarian refers you to NorthStar VETS for this procedure, contact the hospital at 609.259.8300.
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