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Frankie's Friends Raises Funds for Veterinary Dialysis Machine

Tennessee veterinarians Margaret and Jim Phillips still grieve over Sandee, their beloved German shepherd who died of heat stroke after a hike in the Tennessee wilderness.

But now the Phillipses and the national charity Frankie’s Friends have launched an ambitious effort to save the lives of other dogs like Sandee.

They’re working to raise money for a dialysis machine, a sophisticated piece of equipment which help dogs and cats survive a variety of emergencies. The machine can become a lifesaver for pets who have suffered heat stroke or swallowed toxic materials.

A pit bull receives veterinary dialysis at Penn Vet.

 “This is a really important machine that can be used to treat a variety of illnesses,” said Dr. Margaret Phillips. “And it can be used to treat heat stroke, which is what makes it personal to me.”

Tennessee residents are being encouraged to donate to help pay for the $60,000 machine, which will help save pets like Sandee in the future. Organizers have raised more than $16,000 so far and they are continuing their efforts.

Learn how to contribute here.

This would be the only dialysis machine for pets in Tennessee, northern Alabama or Kentucky.  The machine would be owned by Frankie’s Friends, a non-profit that raises money for lifesaving care for pets.  It would be housed at the BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospital in Franklin, Tenn., and operated by expert veterinarians experienced in the use of the technology. Pet owners would pay no equipment cost if their dogs or cats needed dialysis, but other veterinary costs would apply.

Dr. Marc Bercovitch, a BluePearl veterinarian who is board-certified in internal medicine, said a dialysis machine would be an important tool for the Middle Tennessee veterinary community, as well as for pets and pet owners. Bercovitch said a dialysis machine can not only be used to remove excess toxins and fluids that build up when an animal’s kidneys are failing, but it also is extremely useful in removing ingested toxins, such as antifreeze which is highly toxic and frequently consumed by dogs and cats. The machine is also useful in the removal excess fluid in animals suffering from refractory congestive heart failure and for therapeutic plasma exchange in cases of some immune-mediated diseases that have failed traditional therapy. 

The Phillips’ experience shows why such a machine is needed in Middle Tennessee.

Margaret Phillips is a Nashville veterinarian who is board-certified in veterinary dermatology. Dr. Jim Phillips owns and works at Clovercroft Veterinary Hospital. They were camping last summer at Rock Island State Park, and went for a hike together with their two dogs, Sandee, 4, and Tate, a 12-year-old Labrador Retriever.

At one point during the hike, Sandee bolted after a squirrel. Unfortunately, she tumbled into a ravine. This presented a problem. Their other dog, Tate, was not capable of scrambling through the woods as the Phillipses looked for Sandee. So Margaret hiked with Tate back toward their campsite.

Meanwhile, Jim called for Sandee and searched and searched, but couldn’t find her.

By the time Margaret got back to their camper with Tate, she was in for a surprise. Despite an injury to her spine, Sandee had somehow found her way back, before either Jim or Margaret. But Sandee had overexerted herself and was suffering from heat stroke. Margaret wanted to phone Jim, who was still searching in the woods, but couldn’t get cell phone service.

Photo courtesy Margaret and Jim Phillips

When Jim arrived in camp, it had been more than two hours since Sandee took her tumble. They drove to BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Franklin, where the emergency room is open around the clock.  The staff immediately began doing everything possible in an effort to save Sandee.

Because of her heat stroke, Sandee suffered from acute kidney failure and her kidneys completely shut down. Dialysis would have afforded Dr. Bercovitch an opportunity to continue to provide Sandee aggressive supportive care in the hopes that her kidney function would recover.

Bercovitch said it’s quite possible, though not guaranteed, that a nearby dialysis machine could have helped Sandee. Once a dog’s kidneys shut down and other organs begin to fail, the chances of survival become much smaller. The dialysis machine would have offered a powerful tool that might have reversed the process.

A dialysis machine would be a natural fit at BluePearl. The use of the machine would be supervised by Dr. Bercovitch, who in the 1990s was part of a team that established the first private veterinary dialysis practice in the United States. Not only that, but BluePearl offers emergency care 24 hours a day and accepts referrals from veterinarians throughout the region for specialized treatment.

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