Jaime Sage gives some attention to her dog, Charlotte, Tuesday at Siskiyou Imaging in Ashland. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

Veterinary radiologist brings pet MRIs to Rogue Valley

Grants Pass veterinarian Lorain Abel twice crossed a threshold of uncertainty — once with a client's Jack Russell terrier and once with her son's Staffordshire bull terrier — needing to know what was going on inside the dog's head.

"In both cases," the owner of Cedarview Veterinary Hospital said, "the dogs had developed neurological symptoms uncharacteristic of what you would think of in general practice."

The client's 9-year-old Jack Russell had seizures, but it wasn't epilepsy. Her son's dog had simply collapsed and was unable to walk. In both cases, Abel decided the best option was to send the dogs to Jacksonville pet radiologist Jaime Sage for magnetic resonance imaging work.

"It's in our backyard and provided diagnostic information for both dogs without playing guessing games," Abel said.

Before Sage and her husband, James Collins, moved to the Rogue Valley in 2007, pet owners needing a deeper look had to make a long drive to the Willamette Valley or an even longer trip to the Bay Area.

While Sage's skills place her among a cadre of 400 board certified veterinary radiologists, few animal doctors have such skills outside major urban and research centers.

"You provide MRIs to animals for the exact same reason as people," Sage said. "But animals can't talk, and usually the signs are more severe by the time I see them."

The MRI machines, such as the one she uses at Siskiyou Imaging Center, cost in the millions. But Sage had an in with the staff at the Ashland medical office through her husband, who sold the devices for Philips Medical Systems for nine years.

Most of the local imaging work is done on dogs, with a few felines thrown into the mix. The imaging exams generally cost $1,500, although the cost can go up when cerebral spinal fluid taps are required to search for infectious or inflammatory diseases.

"Typically, veterinarians can't afford this strength of magnet," Sage said. "If they do possess a MRI machine, it will be less powerful.

She is aware of a research facility in England with a machine capable of examining horses, but generally only research centers or state-funded facilities would have a MRI machine with such capability.

Sage has cared for animals since her youth. She earned her veterinarian medicine degree from Texas A&M. While doing her residency, she completed a master's thesis comparing MRI sequences in the dog brain to determine which was more beneficial. She also interned at a private practice in West Los Angeles.

Before moving here, she practiced at Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging & Cytopathology (cell disease) in Clackamas. When Sage and her husband moved to Southern Oregon, her radiology skills allowed her to evaluate images from all over the globe for Idexx Laboratories of Westbrook, Maine.

It also gave her the opportunity to moonlight, so to speak, using Siskiyou Imaging Center's MRI machine after hours.

"Most of this kind of work is concentrated in larger cities. My regular work is done over the Internet, so it provides an opportunity here," Sage said.

Ranging from the Pacific coast to the Klamath Basin and from Roseburg down into Northern California, Sage picks up pets to prepare them for 45-minute to hour-long early evening procedures.

"The anatomy is the same, they're just smaller," she said. "The biggest factor is they have to be perfectly still. So everything is under anesthesia. They have to be still that long to take high-quality images."

Abel was pleased to see the Jack Russell had nothing more than a nonmalignant tumor, something that could be easily treated.

"That dog is very well-controlled, on medication, leading a happy, healthy, normal life. We could've tried medication and probably gotten lucky. But having an MRI gave us a chance to have a specific answer. Not everyone can afford those answers, but as I told my client, it's better to spend money so the dog can be treated appropriately rather than put it through pain and agony. It's likely by the time it would've gone through all the medication, it would've been a wash."

The Staffordshire bull terrier's outcome wasn't so wonderful. A large tumor was bound to cause "excruciating pain," Abel said.

"Unfortunately, I knew what I needed to do and put him to sleep, rather than allowing him to suffer. I knew I couldn't wake him up from the MRI."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at Edge.

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