Dr. Kurt Klepitsch, pictured here with Dr. Brenda Jones, is the first in the Veterinary Outreach Program launched Jan. 25 at the Gateway Veterinary Clinic in St. Charles. | Courtesy of David Sharos
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:47AM
To fight ovarian cancer, the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization is hoping that veterinarians and pets just might save the lives of their owners.
On Jan. 25, a new Veterinary Outreach Program was launched at the Gateway Veterinary Clinic in St. Charles and owner Dr. Kurt Klepitsch became the first member of the program, a joint effort that partners the OCSA with the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association.
According to Peter Weber, executive director of the ISVMA, many veterinarians report that pet owners who talk with them about their pet’s health issues are often more forthcoming about their own health problems. Klepitsch, 49, confirmed pet owners frequently talk about health issues beyond those related to their animal.
“I’ve been here since 1990, and over the course of time, you develop personal relationships with a lot of owners, and they tell you a lot of things about themselves and vice-versa,” Klepitsch said. “There is a lot of give and take, and I’d say conversations about someone’s health or that of a child or relative are at least a weekly thing.”
Klepitsch noted that a lot more women are getting involved in veterinary medicine, which might help female pet owners open up more about health issues.
“I never envisioned there being something like this today, but hopefully a lot of people will join this program and help get the message out,” he said. “My feeling is that this has to be a subtle thing. Vets are very busy folks, but if we hear things, we want people to know where they can get more help, and if we just reach some of the people, that will be a positive thing. I hope this program will have some legs.”
About 30 people gathered in the Gateway waiting room as a number of officials connected with the program spoke. A representative from Gov. Pat Quinn’s office, Dr. Brenda Jones, who also serves as the deputy director for the Illinois Department of Health’s office of women’s health, offered support for the program.
“We want to be part of this movement that helps women and makes them aware of this disease, and we support this initiative that gives an opportunity for education for women in the state of Illinois,” Jones said.
Another woman who expressed hope for the program was Vallie Szymanski of St. Charles, who serves as the executive director of OCSA and has been a client of Dr. Klepitsch for 20 years. She said Klepitsch has taken care of her cats and dogs and that she has had many conversations about human health issues with him during that time.
“I frequently have talked with Dr. Klepitsch about a number of issues after he was done examining one of my pets so as to not interrupt him, and while he never pretended to be a medical doctor, he’d often suggest that I have certain things checked out,” Szymanski said.
“My father was a vet and lived in a rural area where there aren’t a lot of doctors all the time, and vets are often sought out for medical advice. But here, they can get help.”
Peter Weber, executive director of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, was on hand Friday and noted that “symptom awareness” was an important element in addressing ovarian cancer and promised that a ground swell of support for the VOP program already was building.
“I’m comfortable that there will be thousands in the network within the first year,” Weber said.
“There are other doctors already reaching out to us hoping to replicate what we’re doing here today throughout the state, as well as corporations that have been contacting us offering financial support.”
A number of those in attendance admitted their lives had been touched by ovarian cancer, including Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, chief executive officer of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“My mother died of ovarian cancer, and this is an exciting program that we feel is quite natural given that human health and animal health are inseparable and are tied together,” he said.