Beck Hallmann is the loving owner of a sphynx named Lady Prunella Knucklesnude von Wrinklebothum — Prune, for short. She is also a committed donor to the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine, even though neither she nor Prune have ever been to campus.
So how did someone who has never visited the college or had her pet treated in the NC State Veterinary hospital become a faithful patron of the CVM?
It turns out that it’s a matter of the heart.
More specifically, it’s a matter of feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, more commonly known as HCM, in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick. The thickened muscle makes it harder for the heart to pump blood, which can lead to heart failure.
Hallmann, who lives in Seattle, first heard about the disease after her best friend made a donation in Prune’s name to a HCM research fund as a Christmas gift. Eager to do her part to support research, Hallmann searched online and found information about feline HCM research conducted at NC State by Kate Meurs, the CVM’s associate dean for research and graduate studies. The HCM Research Gus Fund, named after a sphynx who died from HCM in 2010, supports Meurs’ work researching the genetic roots of HCM, including uncovering the mutations that cause the disease in the sphynx.
“So many in our community have lost their cats,” says Hallmann. “Often they are young and they die quickly.”
Some breeds of cat, including the sphynx, are genetically predisposed to HCM. Those affected are in danger of premature death from the disease, which can come on suddenly. Now, sphynx owners devoted to their companions — and CVM researchers — are fighting back.
NC State is, “doing miracles for our [sphynx] community,” says Hallmann.
In addition to her personal generosity — her most recent donation this year was for $2,500 — Hallmann is able to make her support felt in another way. Her family has established a foundation in that matches the charitable contributions of family members. Last year, the Hallmann Family Fund matched Hallmann’s contribution with an additional $7,500 to the Gus Fund. Over the three years Hallmann has been supporting HCM research, between her own gifts and the matching gifts from the foundation, an additional $28,000 has gone to research efforts.
Another way of supporting Meurs’ research is voluntarily sending a professionally drawn and packaged blood sample to NC State for inclusion in ongoing studies. Samples can come either from cats already diagnosed with HCM by a licensed veterinary professional or from a disease-free sphynx that is at least 8 years old. In the future, Hallmann hopes to send a blood sample of a cat that is free of the disease to Meurs’ lab.
Hallman shares a special bond with Prune, a rare variety of sphynx with unusually shaped ears that curl backward at the tips, which has earned them the nickname “elf sphynx.” Prune was a rescue cat from Minnesota who belonged to a hoarder and was abused by other cats, says Hallmann.
She carefully nursed the little cat back to health. And now, Hallmann is part of an Instagram sphynx community where she has about 3,500 followers. On her page, she shares pictures of Prune and talks with fellow sphynx owners about caring for a breed with special needs, such as daily ear cleaning, regular baths, sunburn prevention and care for skin rashes.
Hallmann takes Prune to a veterinary cardiologist every year to be checked for HCM. When she was in her teens, she had dreams of becoming a veterinarian. Supporting HCM research at NC State, she says, is her way of supporting the profession.
“My goal is: no more HCM,” she says.
~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine