When the Doctor Becomes the Client

Autumn's Story 

By Dr. Danielle Richardson

In spring 2016, OVC's Dr. Danielle Richardson was out for a walk with her four month old baby and husband when her 10-year-old Golden Retriever Autumn suddenly collapsed. 

Danielle's Golden Retrievers Stanley (left) and Autumn (right).​



Editor’s note: Dr. Danielle Richardson completed an internship in Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, followed by a residency in Small Animal Internal Medicine at OVC, and achieved board certification in 2009. Danielle has been a Staff Internist at OVC since 2008 and spends her time on both the Medicine and Oncology Services at the OVC Health Sciences Centre.

This past March, I had the experience of being a client. As a veterinarian and internal medicine specialist who normally treats patients at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), I unexpectedly found myself in an unfamiliar situation. My husband Mike, four-month-old son and two Golden Retrievers, Autumn and Stanley, were out for a walk, enjoying the sunshine. We were about a kilometer from home and headed up a fairly steep hill. Suddenly, Autumn, our sweet 10-year-old Golden collapsed on the sidewalk. She was pale and tremoring and appeared to have lost consciousness. In that moment I was both terrified and helpless.


My husband and I quickly came up with the plan that he would rush home with our son and I would stay with the dogs and wait for him to come back with the car. As I sat on the sidewalk with my sweet girl I worried that we might not make it to the OVC in time. She was extremely pale and made no effort to get up. I remembered that my friend and colleague Dr. Shauna Blois, a small animal internal medicine specialist and Associate Professor at OVC, was working that day and I called her immediately. I have never been happier to hear someone’s voice. Somehow she managed to understand me through my tears. She was able to be the rational one and reassure me that she would be waiting for us when we arrived. Moments later I saw our neighbour’s car speeding towards us. Fortunately, she had arrived just as Mike was running home with the baby and immediately offered to come and get us so Mike could get our son ready to come to OVC. As we approached the OVC Companion Animal Hospital, I could see Shauna and Deb Cloutier, one of our Registered Veterinary Technicians, waiting outside for us with a gurney. They immediately took charge of the situation and rushed Autumn to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where Dr. Shane Bateman, Emergency and Critical Care Specialist, and ICU resident Patricia were waiting for her. Within minutes Autumn was being stabilized and her colour was improving.


Unfortunately, as we suspected, the news was not good. Autumn had both pericardial and abdominal effusion – which is the build-up of fluid in the sac around the heart, as well as the abdomen.  The goal then became trying to determine the cause of the effusion and determine if it was reasonable to put her through surgery. Despite being late on a busy Friday afternoon, Autumn soon had thoracic radiographs and a CT scan done, and our fantastic surgeon, Dr. Ameet Singh suggesting that we proceed with a thoracoscopic pericardectomy right away. This procedure removed the sac around her heart to prevent the re-accumulation of fluid that had impaired the ability of her heart to pump and had led to her collapse. Fortunately, Autumn recovered well from surgery. We received constant updates and photos from her surgery resident Jackie. We were even able to visit her right after surgery thanks to the kindness and babysitting offer from our friends and Oncology technician, Vicky. Autumn was treated like a princess by the fantastic team in ICU and she was able to come home to us less than 48 hours after surgery.

Autumn's condition stabilized at the OVC Companion Animal Hospital 

Despite how terrifying this experience was for my family, it was a reminder of what a truly fantastic place the OVC is and how fortunate we are to work here. I was in awe of how everyone came together to help our sweet girl in a situation where minutes really do count. From my first call to Shauna, to triage, ICU, radiology, anesthesia and surgery, everyone really went above and beyond and words cannot express how thankful we are. Countless friends and colleagues were offering to help in any way and were checking in throughout the weekend to see how Autumn was doing. It’s not that this situation was any different from how any patient would be treated, it just reminded me of how truly lucky I am to work with such an amazing group of people. I hope they know how special they are and that what they do really does matter. Thanks to them, our princess came home. Autumn continues to do well. Her energy has been better than it has been in months, and several follow-up visits at OVC have not revealed any concerns. She is such a lucky girl and my family could not be more thankful.