Owner’s laser focus leads Alaska dog to UF veterinary specialist


Dr. Plummer with Harrison

Harrison is shown with Dr. Caryn Plummer, far right, along with veterinary ophthalmology resident Dr. Sarah Czerwinski, left, and senior veterinary student Jennifer Adams. Plummer is wearing a hat given to her by Harrison’s owner, Heather Reed. (Photo courtesy of Heather Reed)

By Sarah Carey

After her beloved English springer spaniel sustained a traumatic eye injury last fall, Heather Reed’s laser focus on finding him the very best care led her from the freezing North Slope of Alaska to the UF Small Animal Hospital in sunny Gainesville.

She now says it’s a journey she’d make again – in, well, the blink of an eye.

“It was a memorable, educational trip due to what we found when we got there,” said Reed, who comes from a medical family and travels regularly to the lower 48 states to visit her father, who lives in Florida, and other family in Massachusetts. She takes her dog, Harrison, with her on every trip.

“He goes wherever I go, pretty much,” Reed said.

Copy of DogsEyeChristmas

The swelling around Harrison’s eye was very obvious over the holidays. (Photo courtesy of Heather Reed)

Reed traveled more than 6,000 miles to take her dog, named Harrison, to Dr. Caryn Plummer, the UF veterinary ophthalmologist she had found online after a longtime friend and veterinarian, Dr. Steve Atwood of Massachusetts, recommended she take the dog to a specialist. But there are no board-certified ophthalmologists in Alaska, Reed said, aside from one specialist who visits an Anchorage clinic periodically when the patient load warrants his trip.

“Harrison deserved more than that,” Reed said. She searched the Web until she came across the UF College of Veterinary Medicine’s website and found Plummer’s bio. She liked what she saw and what she read, noting that like her father, Plummer was a Yale graduate.

“She has a kind face,” Reed said of Plummer. “I emailed her and within 15 minutes, Dr. Plummer emailed me back a compelling and compassionate response, providing an overview of UF’s procedures with veterinary students and residents, and what Harrison could expect. I was thoroughly impressed by her scope of relevant questions and ethical considerations.”

Reed added that when they spoke by phone, Plummer introduced herself simply as Caryn Plummer, without her doctor’s title.

“She was very unassuming and listened carefully to everything I told her. Almost immediately I felt at ease. She inspired my trust.”

Plummer told Reed, who was planning a trip to Florida to see her father in West Palm Beach, that there were other board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists closer to where her father lived.

“After we spoke, I knew Harrison and I were going to Gainesville,” Reed said. “Harrison is my best friend, and I want the best possible care for him.”

She scheduled the appointment for early February.

“We were received with such a warm welcome and with integrity each step of the way,” Reed said.

Heather Reed with Harrison on the beach in South Florida

Heather Reed with Harrison, who has now almost fully recuperated from his eye injury, on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale the day they arrived in Florida and just prior to their visit to UF’s Small Animal Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Heather Reed)

Harrison’s injury was caused by a bite wound from another dog, which created a large amount of swelling around the eye area and tore an area where he recently had undergone a surgical procedure. Despite initial treatment from an emergency veterinarian in Alaska and a homeopathic veterinarian subsequently, Harrison’s right eyelid was droopy for weeks and she didn’t know the extent to which that eye was functional. For a long time, she had to lift his right eyelid in order to even see the eye, and wondered if anything more could be done to help him.

“We evaluated Harrison and determined that the eye was normal and visual,” Plummer said. “There is some strabismus, meaning the direction of the eye’s glance is deviated a little bit, due to scarring, but nothing needs to be done to address it.”

Reed said Plummer told her that Harrison’s eyes were “functionally perfect.”

After all Harrison had been through, to have an eye specialist make this assessment gave Reed a huge sense of relief.

“We didn’t actually do anything for him except provide his mom with some answers and, I hope, some peace of mind,” Plummer said.

“In the constellation of veterinarians you have there at UF, Dr. Plummer is one bright star,” Reed said. “Her ophthalmology team was simply wonderful. Everyone was so kind and showed such good listening and communication skills.”

She said Harrison was handled “gently and patiently and with such loving kindness” and that she wanted to thank the people at UF for creating a “synergistic environment where learning thrives.”


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