|04-23-2010, 12:25 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Join Date: Apr 2004
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Deaf veterinarian's determination blasts barriers
Deaf vet's determination overcomes barriers :: The SouthtownStar :: Donna Vickroy
After checking the stray kitten for any obvious signs of trouble, the veterinarian tightened his grip and grabbed the syringe.
Cheeto let his displeasure be known. But Tom McDavitt didn't have to hear the spine-tingling screech to understand how the feline was feeling.
He could see and feel the animal's distress.
McDavitt, 42, is among a sprinkling of deaf veterinarians practicing in the United States. He's the only one in Illinois.
The owner of the Alsip Animal Clinic takes information in via touch, sight and intuition. "Most of the time, I can just tell if something is wrong," he said.
He communicates with his clients' owners through sign language, broken speech and sometimes paper and pen.
"The shot stings," he told a group of hearing-impaired students from Central Middle School in Tinley Park who, along with Lemont High Schooler Anna Thelen, were touring the clinic with special education teacher Jenny Ferkaluk and interpreter Jeanette Archie.
"But he'll be OK, he'll go to sleep now," McDavitt said, and then carried the short-haired cat to a back room where it would await surgery.
A bout of meningitis when he was 5 years old left McDavitt deaf. Though highly intelligent - he scored a 35 on his ACT - he struggled through the logistics of school and the misconceptions of the hearing world.
"People told me I couldn't become a veterinarian," he said. "I told them, 'Yes, I will.' Some things are hard to say, but that doesn't mean they are hard to learn."
Even without a disability, veterinary school is a formidable quest. There are 300 applications for every university position.
With the help of interpreters and note-takers, McDavitt got through Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, only to be stymied in his job hunt.
He sent out hundreds of resumes that first year. He also volunteered at the Sedgwick County Zoo in his hometown of Wichita.
Finally, he was hired by a small clinic in downstate Illinois. From there he moved north to Chicago's south suburbs, dividing his time between the Alsip Animal Clinic and another clinic in Hickory Hills. After the owner of the Alsip clinic died in 1999, McDavitt bought it. A few years later he moved it to its current location on Pulaski Road. He's been practicing for 17 years.
About 200 of McDavitt's 4,000 clients are deaf.
He has a business partner, Byron Lauderdale, who steps in if communication breaks down.
On this day, McDavitt showed the students around his office and let them observe while he treated a cocker spaniel with a chronic ear infection.
He then handed out goggles so the students could watch while he neutered young Cheeto with a $48,000 surgical laser.
"I was one of the first vets to get the laser," McDavitt said. "It makes a smaller incision and the healing time is faster."
The surgery, Ferkaluk signed to the students, would keep the cat from having babies, thus making it easier to be adopted into a permanent home.
Once the surgery was finished, McDavitt fielded questions.
Tyler Viliekis wanted to know if the animals ever bite. "All the time," McDavitt said, showing off an array of scars. "It's part of the job."
Anna, 16, asked for advice on pursuing her dream of becoming a veterinary technician.
"The more math and science you take, the better," he said.
And Hamza Abukhudair wondered how the doctor can tell if an animal is sick.
"Dogs are easier to diagnose than cats. If they aren't eating, are lethargic or just not being themselves, something's wrong," he said. Sometimes, he needs to do bloodwork to make a diagnosis.
McDavitt checks breathing and heart beat by touch, sometimes laying his cheek against an animal.
Ferkaluk said McDavitt is a role model for the deaf students.
"He shows that with a lot of hard work you can do whatever you put your mind to."
McDavitt does indeed seem to accomplish whatever he puts his mind to. His 2-year-old daughter, Grace, appears to be cut from the same cloth.
"She's already learned to open drawers in the dresser and use them as stairs to climb," he said.
His wife, Brigette, assists in the clinic, handling paperwork and covering phones.
The couple has several pets, including a box terrier, ferret, love bird and a 17-year-old cat who lives at the office.
The next day, young Cheeto was adopted out.
"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."
- Helen Keller