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Jane Lewis Seaks Distinguished Professorship

By Terry G. Seaks

Pet owners who have seen their beloved animal saved from death by superb doctors at the College of Veterinary Medicine will immediately understand why my wife and I have long supported the CVM. Three times we have brought seriously ill animals to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and seen them restored to health by nationally known professors.

This happened in 1997, 2002, and 2008, when doctors saved our beloved cats from heart disease and cancer while simultaneously teaching and inspiring students of veterinary medicine. The foundation for the gift of a professorship to honor my wife was laid by great professors like Dr. Clarke Atkins, Dr. Adam Birkenheuer, Dr. Lizette Hardie, and Dr. Kyle Mathews.

Drs. Atkins and Birkenheuer saved our eight-year old cat Snowball from heart failure in 1997. Dr. Mark Whitley, our Greensboro veterinarian, had sent us to the CVM’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital [VTH] for what looked like a kidney problem. When Snowball was seen by Dr. Birkenheuer in Internal Medicine, he suspected an underlying heart problem and called upon senior cardiologist Clarke Atkins. Dr. Atkins diagnosed a rare but easily treatable heart condition. Snowball had been near death but made a complete recovery and lived to be 16 years old.

When  Fluffy, age 13, stopped eating and had a suspicious lung mass on a chest x-ray in 2002, Dr. Whitley knew where we wanted to go without asking: the College of Veterinary Medicine and the VTH!  Soft-tissue surgeon Dr. Lizette Hardie removed a cancerous tumor from Fluffy’s left lung, saving her from certain death. Fluffy recovered completely and thrived for six years until a second, separate tumor appeared in her right lung this past January. Fluffy apparently has a genetic tendency to this rare feline lung cancer. Saving Fluffy’s life the first time was remarkable enough, but CVM surgeon Kyle Mathews performed a second miracle, removing a cancerous right-side lung lobe. We did not have to look too far to see the hand of God in the 4th year vet student on Fluffy’s case:  Dr. Lauren Pugliese, Class of 2008. Dr. Pugliese held a Fluffy Seaks Scholarship that we had established in 2002 after the College of Veterinary Medicine saved Fluffy’s life the first time. 

When Dean Warwick Arden gave a talk and said that the College of Veterinary Medicine was once again ranked among the top five schools of veterinary medicine, we were not surprised in the least. What the Dean added that was astonishing to me was that the College of Veterinary Medicine did not have a single endowed professorship with which to reward the distinguished professors who make our College famous and heal our animal friends. The Dean asked his audience to consider how NC State could retain its distinguished professors, as well as attract future star professors, without endowed professorships. When I heard him make those remarks, I raised my hand to make sure that I heard him correctly: CVM consistently ranked among the top five colleges of veterinary medicine in the nation and yet we did not have a single endowed professorship? 

I was incredulous that the CVM could achieve national distinction without significant private support for our professors, but I had heard Dean Arden correctly.  Shortly after that, I talked with Allison Crouch, then the Interim Executive Director of the NC Veterinary Medicine Foundation, and explained my interest in honoring Jane, my wife of 37 years, and simultaneously helping the College of Veterinary Medicine. The result was the creation of the Jane Lewis Seaks Distinguished Professorship in Companion Animal Medicine. 

We hope it will be the first of many endowed professorships at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine to honor and attract the extraordinary professors who routinely perform miracles to save the lives of our animal companions.  

Terry G. Seaks is a professor emeritus of economics at University of North Carolina, Greensboro and a member of the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Foundation.

Originally published as the Commentary column in the Summer 2008 issue of the CVM Magazine.