by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 Ph.D. | Photo by Henry Moore Jr.
When “Scout,” a 9-year-old German Shepherd mix, walked into the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, he went to work right away. Calm and obedient with friendly eyes and a large scar across the top of his head, he lies down on the mat his owner, Anne Hensley, puts down for him. She kisses his head, and he watches her as she sits down. Scout is a therapy dog.
“I was a civilian volunteer in Vietnam,” said Anne, who continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. She has also recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“Just having him there is essential for my mental, emotional and physical health,” said Hensley, who has lived with Scout for the past 7 years in a retirement community. Scout, a rescue dog, was paired with Anne through a dog assistance program. Scout keeps her going. He is life, she says.
Back at home in Tacoma in August 2013, Scout started having intense seizures about once a week. “The seizures were very intense, very intense,” said Anne.
The diagnosis: a brain tumor.
When Scout and Anne arrived at WSU, they met Dr. Annie Chen, a veterinary neurologist. Dr. Chen thought Scout would also be eligible to be part of a clinical trial to find new ways to treat brain tumors.
The trial uses gene therapy to infect the tumor cells with a virus that carries a gene called cystosine deaminase. Once the gene is in the tumor cells, the patient receives a medication that the gene can convert to kill the tumor cells from within.
“Because animals serve as a model for diseases in humans, the knowledge from the trial could also one day help humans,” said Dr. Chen.
For Scout, it meant that any part of the tumor not removed in surgery, might be treated by this new gene therapy.
Dr. Chen identified the extent of the mass of the tumor using MRI, and Scout was scheduled for surgery on November 11. Because of the location of the tumor, it was a long and complicated surgery. Scout stayed at WSU for two weeks.
“There was a lot of anxious time,” said Anne.
“This is a place of miracles.”
—Anne Hensley, Scout’s owner
In a chance encounter, Anne met Nikki Hessner, a junior at WSU and member of the WSU Raptor Club. Nikki was walking through the Veterinary Teaching Hospital with “Kessie,” a resident American Kestrel when Anne came up and began asking questions.
“She just kept asking questions and we never ran out of things to say,” said Nikki.
They hit it off so well that over the next two weeks Nikki gave Anne a tour of the raptor mews and of the WSU campus.
“The Raptor Club saved my sanity,” said Anne, who was extremely grateful for Nikki’s company. “This place is full of loving, caring, intelligent people.”
Today, Scout is almost back to his old self. He is able to continue his important job as a therapy dog and can do everything he could do before surgery. Scout also went three months before having another seizure, and this time it was very mild.
“Our goal was to minimize the seizures,” said Dr. Annie Chen, a WSU neurologist. “If we could spread them further apart, that is a good goal.”
The surgery and gene therapy could also extend his life. Scout might have 2-3 years or more years of life, says Dr. Chen. For a 9-year-old dog, that is a large part of his lifespan.
Scout will return to WSU every 3 months for MRI to see if there is any tumor regrowth. Because MRI can show better details of soft tissue, including the brain, any regrowth of the tumor will be seen in its earliest stages. And that is critical for Scout’s course of treatment.
“MRI can catch the regrowth sooner than other imaging modalities,” said Dr. Chen. “That will let us know if we should do radiation or additional gene therapy.”
Anne couldn’t be happier with the care Scout received at WSU. Everyone from the students, to the doctors, to the hospital staff helped soothe her mind and spirit, she said.
“This is a place of miracles,” said Anne. “It’s not a place you want to be, but it is the best place to be.”
Update: In November 2015, Scout passed away, but he and Anne enjoyed two wonderful years together after his diagnosis.