Behind the X-Ray: 2016 ‘They Ate What?!’ Winner

Learn more about the 2016 “They Ate What?!” winner, Dr. Patricia Clark, her clinic German Flatts Veterinary Clinic, and her patient, a pit bull named Jasper.

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As the only animal hospital in Ilion, an upstate New York village hemmed in by the Erie Canal and a patchwork quilt of dairy farms and wooded lots, German Flatts Veterinary Clinic parcels out the same values as many of the town’s nearly 8,000 residents.

The first thing German Flatts did as the winner of 2016 Veterinary Practice News’ “They Ate What?!” contest was donate the $500 cash prize to Deena and Robert Robinson, the owners of Jasper, a young pit bull whose taste for plastic brought home the victory.

“We decided, as a practice, to donate the $500 to them because they have a good-sized bill,” said Patricia K. Clark, DVM, who operated on Jasper, extracting the chewed-off handle of a dog toy ball thrower.

The total bill, including X-ray, surgery and overnight stay, came to $1,400.

Jasper’s owners took him to German Flatts on June 23. He exhibited “obvious abdomen discomfort when touched,” Dr. Clark recalled.

“He was only 5 months old when this happened, and it happened a month after he was neutered,” she said. “So he’s been a frequent surgery patient for his short life.”

After Clark gave Jasper the once-over, Heather Sautter, DVM, X-rayed Jasper’s innards and right away discovered a corncob-like obstruction in his stomach. Once Clark was presented with the radiograph, she didn’t waste any time.

Jasper was anesthetized and opened up, and then the foreign object was removed lengthwise and a small hole in the fundus repaired—all on the same day.

“If my dog swallowed something like this, I’d want it out in a hurry,” Clark said.

Her philosophy is the same as the other German Flatts veterinarians: Treat clients’ pets like you would want your pets treated.

Post-op Jasper recovered quickly.

“I came in later that night to check up on him,” Clark said. “I gave him a small meal; he wolfed that down, and he was perfect.”

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Persistence Pays Off

A few years ago, German Flatts veterinary technician Walt Ostasz submitted a “They Ate What?!” entry showing a dog that had swallowed a woman’s yin-and-yang necklace.

“We didn’t even get an honorable mention,” Clark said. “In the X-ray you could see the whole thing: the moon and the star and the squiggly lines.”

In Jasper’s case, Clark knew what the object was as soon as she rinsed it.

“When I took it out I was like, ‘Oh, we won! I know we won! We’re going to send this in,’” Clark said. “I’ve been practicing now for 30 years … so it takes a lot to get me excited.

“Walt, who helped submit the previous entry, was like, ‘We’re going to win.’ There was a lot of excitement and, lo and behold, we did [win].”

German Flatts hopes to become a repeat winner.

“If we get interesting cases, we’ll definitely resubmit,” Clark said.

Starting Small

Nicholas Chuff, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, established the mixed-animal practice in 1981 out of a former vacuum cleaner store.

In 1992 he built the “big, beautiful, modern facility,” as Clark described it.

Dr. Chuff comes to the clinic when he can but spends much of his time on farms, checking up on dairy cattle. He also does technical work for drug maker Elanco Animal Health.

When Chuff is making the farm rounds, German Flatts is staffed by three small animal veterinarians—Clark, Dr. Sautter and Julie Berntson, DVM—three veterinary technicians, a practice manager and three receptionists.

Clark will examine just about any small animal, but she draws the line at reptiles and birds, citing a lack of expertise about both groups.

The clinic practices preventive-care medicine and offers 24-hour emergency coverage. The vets routinely check their patients from head to toe, Clark said.

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“We do preventive care rather than wait for problems to develop and put the fires out at that point,” she said.

The policy works. Last year Clark found a mass while doing routine palpation of a German shepherd’s abdomen during a wellness check.

“It turned out to be cancerous, and I cured the dog of it by operating early rather than waiting for the dog to become ill,” Clark said.

She called Jasper’s case the most exciting one at the hospital in a long time.

“I think it kind of points to our practice philosophy,” she said. “We practice as a team. Dr. Sautter took the case in and made the diagnosis during office hours, and then it just followed on through to surgery.

“Fortunately,” she noted, “it had a happy ending.”

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