Animal hospital to open after yearlong hiatus
By Julia Green
The three-and-a-half thousand pet owners who used to take their furry family members to Crossroads Animal Hospital along Route 28 in Arkville will be thrilled to learn that the practice is reopening its doors after a yearlong hiatus.
“We are officially open and the hospital is doing 100 percent of its posted hours,” said Dr. Kevin Oppenheimer. “However, I am working about 75 percent of my typical hours. I’m training new staff and unfortunately every week or two I still have to have some medical procedures done, so I won’t be available at all times, just to start off with.”
Crossroads Animal Hospital officially went into what Oppenheimer called a state of “hibernation” in May of 2008 after a year of utilizing relief veterinarians from locations as far-flung as Rochester and New York City.
“I said, ‘The day will come when I will reopen,’” Oppenheimer said of making the decision to close down. “I will be back, but right now I just have to focus on my health.’ It was just way too much. So the second year I had to let the staff go and really closed the doors.”
Oppenheimer’s health issues began in June of 2007, when he was at work and was suddenly struck with a tremendous pain on his right side. With a 22-year history of kidney stones, he assumed that was the problem. However, several days thereafter the pain had not lessened and had spread to both sides of his body. A surgical procedure showed that it wasn’t a kidney stone, which led to more than a year of medical opinions.
“Over the course of the next 14 months, I saw between 30 and 40 doctors,” Oppenheimer said. “I spent two weeks out at the Mayo Clinic, saw doctors across every field – several neurologists, rheumatologists, orthopedists, internists, infections disease specialists – everybody recognized that the pain was there, but nobody was able to find the cause of the pain.”
Oppenheimer underwent a number of medicinal trials, the side effects of which he says greatly hindered his ability to keep the practice going.
“While I was on pain meds, I literally have no memory of those two months,” he said. “Between the pain and the medicine, it was obviously impossible for me to practice veterinary medicine.”
This was the point at which Oppenheimer attempted to keep the practice going through the use of substitute “per diem” vets while he continued to seek medical treatment and pay the business expenses out of pocket; an option that became more and more difficult as time progressed. After a year went by, the income the practice was generating was far less than its expenses, and Oppenheimer had no choice but to temporarily close its doors.
He continued to seek medical treatment for his pain, seeing a host of doctors in ranging specialties and undergoing a number of trials.
“After several medicinal trials, they did surgical trials where they would give me injections into my spine, into my ribs, give me cortisone injections or nerve-numbing injections, but again, nothing worked,” Oppenheimer said. “By 14 months into it, I was seeing several pain management specialists at that time and they all agreed I needed to go to Fort Lauderdale, where there’s a hospital for people diagnosed with unknown chronic pain where they teach you to live with a pain you’ll have for all your life. They said, ‘We will never figure out what this is. You will go to this camp for 60 days and they’re going to teach you how to live with that pain.’”
At the age of 37, Oppenheimer said, that didn’t sound to him like an appealing option, as the pain was one that he likens to walking around with two freshly-broken ribs on each side of his body. He continued to do research on his own in addition to seeking the advice of medical experts and, 14 months into it, he came across an answer.
“I finally tapped into a very rare set of diseases on Google called lower rib diseases, which nobody had considered,” he said. “One in part called Twelfth Rib Syndrome, and as a doctor I can understand medicalese fairly easily, and when I was reading the signs and symptoms of it, I basically burst into tears. I knew that was exactly what I had – it fit me to a T like nothing else.”
Oppenheimer found the country’s leading expert in twelfth rib diseases practicing at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan and tracked him down.
“I would have flown anywhere in the world, of course, but he was in Manhattan, and after I met with him he reviewed all my records, which were a huge mess of several piles. He took a look at me, then did a procedure where he blocked some very specific nerves, and for the first time during all that time, the pain stopped temporarily.”
That confirmed the diagnosis of Twelfth Rib Syndrome, which is only diagnosed in 10 to 12 people a year and is so rare that it doesn’t generally appear in medical textbooks. Upon diagnosis, Oppenheimer was presented with two possible treatments: the first, to have pulsed radiofrequency into specific nerves, which would have to be repeated two or three times a year for the rest of his life; or the second, to have his 11th and 12th ribs on both sides surgically removed.
Oppenheimer underwent one round of the pulse radiofrequency, which he said appears to be working; however, he added, the procedure itself was painful and is not something he’d opt to undergo twice or three times a year for the rest of his life.
“If it looks like I have to have that for the rest of my life, I will choose to have my ribs removed and be done with it altogether,” he said. “The PRF was incredibly painful; there’s no sedation or anesthesia, and your nerves are already on fire from this disease. At this age, I just can’t see doing that for the rest of my life.”
After the pulsed radiofrequency procedure, which Oppenheimer underwent in February, the pain had disappeared by March and he spent a month weaning himself off the pain medications he had been taking.
“Then I just kind of built my strength back – I was in convalescence for the next month, and I knew at that point that I was going to be able to reopen the practice,” he said. “I offered my old staff all their original positions back, and some came back and some moved on, and I hired some new staff. I’m very proud to say that all of my staff are licensed veterinary technicians, which means that they have degrees in this, so I’ve got people who really went to school to be veterinary technicians. I’m just thrilled with the people I’m working with.”
Oppenheimer is also optimistic about making changes and improvements to the practice, including the planned acquisition of an ultrasound machine in the near future.
Since announcing the reopening of Crossroads Animal Hospital earlier this month, Oppenheimer said that the response from the community has been very encouraging.
“The welcome that I have received from the community has been overwhelming, and I don’t say that casually,” he said. “On the first day we were here, we had 40 messages on the answering machine, all just ‘Welcome back, Dr. Oppenheimer.’ We’ve got people continuously stopping by to see the place, see me, see the staff, see my dog, Karma – it’s truly been overwhelming and honestly it’s been just so helpful in giving me back the confidence that I’m doing the right thing for the community and for myself. It’s been invaluable, and you can’t put a price on that kind of support from a community.”
He added that he and his wife, Mary Jane, were also amazed by the support they received when he needed her help in finding treatments and seeking medical attention. The couple met just before Oppenheimer began experiencing symptoms and was married in August of 2007; he says that her support was key to him over the course of the past two years.
“Not only do I thank her for the support she’s given me while we were married, she’s had to drive me to all these appointments, and I appreciate her employers who let her have time off to take care of me. There are just a lot of people I have gratitude for.”
Oppenheimer, a New Jersey native whose grandparents owned 120 acres in Margaretville, spent weekends in the Catskills and credits the area with driving him to become a vet.
“My first year in business here, I said, ‘Without having been exposed to Margaretville as a child, I would not be a vet today.’ This is where I got my exposure to nature and wildlife that brought about my love of animals.”
Prior to opening Crossroads, he practiced in Florida for seven years before returning to the Catskills to take over the practice that had belonged to Dr. John Fairbairn.
“I came back to the place that made me what I am, and I feel of course that there’s a reason for that, too. I’ve come full-circle, given back to the community that made me who I am today.”
Crossroads Animal Hospital is open Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.