Meet the Vet – Dr Gaby van Galen
April 14, 2020
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Gaby’s interests and expertise lay in equine internal medicine and emergency and critical care. She has a special interest in critically ill patients such as horses with colic or diarrhea, neuromuscular disorders and sick neonatal foals.
Gaby has worked in various practices in Belgium and Sweden and later took up the position as Associate Professor in Equine Medicine at the Equine Hospital of the Copenhagen University. Gaby moved to Camden in March 2018 with her Husband Dr Denis Verwilghen and their two sons, Thomas (9) and Noah (6).
Gaby’s role at Camden Equine Centre is:
– Head of the equine internal medicine team
– Delivering clinical service as a specialist in equine internal medicine and critical care
– Teaching pre-graduate students, interns and residents in the clinical aspect of internal medicine
– Performing clinical research
🐴What made you become a vet and an equine vet in particular?
As from a young age on, I just knew that I wanted to become a veterinarian. Working with animals and caring for them and at the same time, their owners attracted me. Growing up horse riding and becoming allergic to dogs during my veterinary studies, becoming a horse vet was only logical to me.
I also love a medical challenge, so putting all the diagnostic pieces of the puzzle together and figuring out what is wrong. And then, once I know what is wrong with the patient, being able to do something about this.
After I finished my own specialist training, I decided to stay in academia because I value sharing experiences with others (colleagues, students, specialists in training) and teaching. In addition, being at the forefront of and pushing boundaries in equine internal medicine at an international level really excites me.
🐴What is the most interesting or challenging case you’ve worked on?
The most emotionally challenging case to me was a horse that broke out of a stable and overeaten itself with oats and then was admitted with mild colic. This colic episode was relatively easily solved. However, as a complication, the horse then became severely laminitic. The laminitis was so severe that we could not keep the horse comfortable and the horse was about to lose both its front hoofs. But we had to keep the horse alive because of the medical issues with the rider. The rider was a girl of 16 years old that was recently hospitalised because of severe anorexia nervosa. The parents were afraid that if the horse would die as a consequence of overeating, the girl would never be convinced to start eating and would be at risk of dying too. Eventually, after pushing and trying way longer than what I normally would have done, we still had to euthanise the horse.
🐴Why do you think Neonatology is important?
For owners, it is of course critical that we can save their foals, the babies that they have put a lot of energy and money in to conceive and have been waiting for for months. Critical care of sick foals can be expensive but losing foals is in many instances even more expensive. Especially considering that a mare can only carry a limited number of foals during her life, and not more than once per year, it shows the obvious limitation in equine breeding. So equine neonatology supports equine breeders, whether they are professional or just a hobby breeder, and therefore the entire equine industry.
Through clinical efforts and trial and error of many specialists around the world, and ongoing research, equine neonatology is a field that has known great improvements over the last decades. With almost all sick foals having a poor prognosis 30-40 years ago, we nowadays manage to save the majority of sick foals. And many of these will have good athletic outcomes. At the population level, this is such a success, and hopefully, it can be a success for many individual foals and owners. A good start is half the work and the same counts for a foal. How wonderful is it that we can give foals that bit of extra support to get a good start again? And how wonderful is it to allow owners to enjoy their babies and watch them grow up in healthy adults instead of having to see them suffer and die?
Equine neonatology is such an exciting field, especially for teaching institutes, because it allows for reflecting heavily on basic sciences such as biochemistry, physiology and pharmacology, and a deeper understanding of what is happening to the patient. If students (and clinicians) can be a part of these reflections, it allows them also to continue doing this on adult horse cases and other species. So in my opinion, providing an equine neonatology service improves the overall level of equine medicine.