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Extraordinary Care for Charlie

At North Carolina State University, we aim high. Our motto, after all, is to “Think and Do the Extraordinary.” That is certainly true at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and the NC State Veterinary Hospital.

When we hit the mark, it’s because of our extraordinary people — people like Rhiannon Doka, a resident in the hospital’s oncology service. Just ask devoted dog owner Mallory Wehrmann and Charlie, her perky 12-year-old Pomeranian.

In November, 2015 Charlie was diagnosed with lymphoma and his condition was serious. His veterinarian referred Mallory to NC State, where he underwent extensive chemotherapy treatment for six months. That was where they encountered Rhiannon Doka, and from there a relationship blossomed. At NC State Mallory found that in addition to top notch medical care, there was a dedicated and caring team eager to provide personal support and encouragement along with effective medical treatment.

That meant the world to Mallory Wehrmann.

When a member of the hospital team touches the life of a pet and pet owner in a special way, there is a recognition program called the Coat of Excellence. A donation to the program allows the donor to honor a faculty clinician, intern, resident or support staff member who has become an important partner in the journey. The person being honored receives a special white lab coat embroidered with his or her name, as well as the pet’s name. The donation also helps enable the hospital to provide the same standard of care to other animals and their human companions.

Mallory Wehrmann with oncology resident Rhiannon Doka.

Thus, in January 2017, an admittedly emotional Mallory Wehrmann, along with Rhiannon Doka and other members of the CVM faculty and staff, came together to celebrate the presentation of the Coat of Excellence to Doka. Speaking to the gathering while holding Charlie, Mallory credited Doka with providing “the gold standard” of care. More than being just a doctor, Doka was there to provide friendship, encouragement and moral support. Even if she wasn’t working on Charlie’s case, if she saw Mallory in a waiting room, she was quick to say hello and connect in a personal and comforting way.

In fact, in a complete coincidence, during the same period Charlie was undergoing his initial treatments, Mallory brought her other dog, Peat (short for “Repeat,” an homage to Mallory’s previous chihuahua named Atom), to the emergency room when he suffered an apparent stroke. Peat was an elderly — Mallory estimates somewhere between 15 and 20 years old — Chihuahua that she actually found abandoned in a sewer drain near her home. Tiny and blind in one eye, Peat tugged at Mallory’s heart and found a home with her and Charlie. It was when Mallory brought Peat to the hospital that Doka chanced upon her and once again offered compassion and support, which was especially important, since Pete did not survive.

“I am an NC State graduate, and I’m happy to do for my school, my dog, and my friends and neighbors. This service means a lot to all of us.”

In short, she really cared.

“On behalf of all the pets you’ve helped, thank you,” Mallory said. “And thank you for giving me another year-and-a-half with Charlie.”

Later, after the larger group had left, Mallory remarked, “Everyone here picks up whether others leave off. They’re all here because they want to be here. Their communication and their bedside manner are uncommon. Charlie doesn’t like ‘going to the vet,’ but he likes coming here. The people here are happy to see him, and he knows he can trust them.”

Charlie’s lymphoma, which had been in remission, recently returned, and he is again undergoing treatment. But he looks and feels good, and appears bright-eyed and happy.

Speaking about her support for the Coat of Excellence program, Mallory said, “This started out as a scary time, but it’s been a blessing. I am an NC State graduate, and I’m happy to do for my school, my dog, and my friends and neighbors. This service means a lot to all of us.”

In recognition of Rhiannon Doka’s compassionate care, Mallory Wehrmann sponsored the Coat of Excellence presentation with a white coat featuring the names of Doka, Charlie and Pete embroidered in red.

Support for the Coat of Excellence program involves a donation of $10,000 to the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Foundation, and not only honors an individual, it increases the resources that can be used to enhance the health and quality of life for the animals who come to the NC State Veterinary Hospital.

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine