Alex’s Story – NC
At 14, Alex was neither a young dog nor a particularly healthy one.
For years he and his brother Gus, registered black Manchester terriers, had suffered a rare condition called Cushing’s disease, with elevated liver enzymes. By 14, Alex was taking a daily supplement for hypothyroidism. He also had a mild heart murmur.
But according to his devoted owners, Nancy and Edna Deas of Raleigh, Alex had a few good years ahead — until his final fateful visits with Dr. Dana Jones, of Durant Road Veterinary Hospital [sic] (Correction: Durant Road Animal Hospital ), and Dr. Kevin Monce, a specialist. What happened has become a matter of fierce dispute, though a few facts are certain: Alex is dead, the Deas sisters blame his vets, and their complaints have set off the most complex round of litigation in recent annals of the N.C. Board of Veterinary Medicine.
The Deases have devoted nearly three years, reams of paperwork and more than $20,000 of their own money to pursuing the case. They stand to recoup nothing.
The saga began on Dec. 28, 1999, when the sisters noticed that Alex was acting funny. Not eating right. Lethargic. They thought he was having a Cushing’s-related spell.
Nancy Deas took Alex to Jones. Monce, whose practice operated out of a trailer, advised.
Though the dog was sent home with Nancy that first day, his condition deteriorated rapidly. Over the next five days, he appeared to be blind and basically quit eating.
On Jan. 3, 2000, on a return visit to Jones, Nancy Deas learned to her horror, that the dog had suffered a fractured jaw and broken teeth, presumably during the Dec. 28 visit. That day, the two vets sent Alex home, even though he was unconscious, the Deases say.
In the middle of the night, Alex’s breathing became labored. Monce suggested the Deases take Alex to Animal Emergency Care of Cary. By the time they arrived, the dog was suffering renal failure. When Alex started “screeching in pain,” Nancy Deas thought the only humane thing to do was to put him out of his misery. He was euthanized on Jan. 4, 2000. To this day, the Deases can scarcely talk about the time without choking up.
A month after Alex died, the sisters filed complaints against Jones and Monce. They also filed complaints, later dismissed as baseless, against two other veterinarians and a technician who cared for Alex in his waning days.
In March 2001, the N.C. Veterinary Medical Board ruled; the following fall, it meted out the punishment.
Jones received a letter of reprimand. When contacted recently, he declined to comment except to say he thought the board’s handling of the case was “appropriate.”
Monce also received a reprimand, including a fine of $3,000. The board later entered an additional complaint against Monce, recommending him for a temporary license suspension. But Monce, who now practices in Wilmington, refused to accept the board’s ruling. The Veterinary Medical Board expects to take its case against Monce before the Office of Administrative Hearings, probably this fall. Monce did not return telephone messages.
Were the results a victory for the Deas sisters? Perhaps, but they remain unsatisfied. They see conspiracies in the way the case was handled. They claim the Veterinary Medical Board, for example, altered audiotapes of conversations related to the case, something the board vigorously denies. They are convinced someone replaced Alex’s cytology slides to cover the vets’ missteps.
The Deas sisters have “provided the board with a lot of really good information,” said Thomas Mickey, executive director of the board. “They’ve found some good stuff, buried in hundreds of pages. But they’ve also been so in our face, attacking me, [board attorney] Mr. [George] Hearn, board members, the time of day … You name it.”
“They’ve brought some interesting things to our attention. That is true. But they’ve also dominated this board for nearly three years.”
In an average year, the Veterinary Medical Board received 55 to 60 formal complaints against veterinarians. In about a third of the cases, Mickey said, the board takes action against the doctors. Often those cases involve a doctor taking drugs, or a doctor violating standards of practice.
What sets apart the Deas case is its volume — Mickey estimates the file to be about 1,500 pages — and the amount of money the Deases have spent”
“We did not want the vets to get away with this with anybody else,” said Edna Deas, who works in student services in the Department of Material Science Engineering at NC State University.
“It is purely a matter of principle to us,” said Nancy Deas, a former school teacher and assistant SAS programmer who stays at home with the sisters’ elderly mother. “We felt we had to do this for Alex.”
At least half the expenses went to lawyer’s fees, Nancy Deas said. When contacted for an interview, the Deases’ lawyer, Steven D. Simpson of Raleigh, asked the sisters to pay him $450 to review the file and speak with a reporter for less than an hour. They declined.
The Deas sisters say they also paid for much of the investigation, including have the allegedly altered tapes transcribed, having Alex’s cytology slides reviewed by an independent lab, having handwriting analysis performed on the markings on those slides and collecting affidavits from a host of witnesses. Nancy Deas submitted herself to two lie detector tests.
It has been all-consuming, but worth it, the sisters said. Alex’s brother Gus, or “Gussy”, died a year after Alex. The Deases said they cannot even consider replacing the animals.
“Who would we take them to?” Edna Deas asked. Nancy added: “After all this, who could we trust?”
Copyright 2002 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.
Record Number: h41m3g89
Reprinted by permission of The News and Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina