Two stories involving the same veterinary practice, both have happy endings

By: Kim Hasty

Photography by: Tony Wooten

Gunny the Greyhound was oblivious.

“He just knows he’s going to get treats afterward,” said Dr. Josh Barkman.

So there was Gunny on Christmas Eve, all 93 pounds of him, volunteering to give a life-saving blood transfusion for one sick little shelter dog. Well, not exactly volunteering but not minding either. Again, those treats.

It all started with the kind-hearted mother-daughter team of Pickett Smith and Truett Smith and a nonprofit organization called Australian Shepherds Furever. The Smiths had three pooches in their home already when they got a call about a dog that had been brought into the Cumberland County Animal Services shelter.

The pup was in bad shape. “Set to be euthanized,” Pickett Smith said.

They named her Ember for that little spark of hope that shone in her eyes despite her pitiful condition. Australian Shepherds Furever arranged for Ember to be transferred to Highland Animal Hospital, where Josh and his brother Japheth are second-generation veterinarians in the practice their father Dave has co-owned since 1976.

It didn’t take long for Josh Barkman to realize Ember was in trouble. She was malnourished and anemic from a gastrointestinal ulcer.

“She was sad, depressed and mopey,” he said. He told the Smiths that he thought the dog’s only hope was through a blood transfusion. So he summoned for Gunny, one of his family’s own dogs. The family adopted Gunny through a greyhound rescue organization.

“What struck us is that it was his own personal dog,” Pickett Smith said. “What vet would do that?”

Well, it turns out that greyhounds are prime blood donor candidates. Similar to humans with O blood types, they are regarded as universal donors. The Barkmans’ other greyhound, Super, also serves as a donor for the practice, as do other dogs. Both Gunny and Super were adopted out of the family’s love of the breed’s sweet nature.

“Better than 85 percent of greyhounds have a blood type that other dogs tolerate,” Barkman said. “They have a higher percentage of red blood cells. But most dogs bodies will accept blood from any donor dog the first time.”

Sure enough, once the transfusion was complete, Ember perked up. “She was eating, wagging her tail,” Barkman said.

The next day, Christmas Day, Ember was able to go home with the Smiths.

“To do all of that over the Christmas holiday and keeping us updated throughout it all is pretty amazing,” Pickett Smith said. “Thank you certainly doesn’t seem sufficient.”

Ember, now fluffy and alert, recently returned to Highland Animal Hospital for a reunion with Gunny and Dr. Josh.

“She’s a completely different dog,” Truett Smith said. “Josh is just awesome.”

Ember isn’t really an Australian Shepherd, but the organization regularly steps in anyway. It also doesn’t look as if Ember is a foster dog any longer.

The Smiths said she’s right at home with their other dogs.

And that’s where they plan for her to stay.

Ember, now fluffy and alert, recently returned to Highland Animal Hospital for a reunion with Gunny and Dr. Josh. Ember is happy at home with
the Smith’s other Aussie.

Dave Barkman could always hold his own with the younger guys.

Even in his 70s, he’d kept his weight within a healthy range and his wiry strength solid. It was a benefit that came in handy while standing at the net on a tennis court or while tending to the hurt paw of someone’s furry best friend.

That’s why the longtime Fayetteville veterinarian was in denial just after Christmas two years ago when he couldn’t seem to shake a bout of the flu.

“I remember him saying that even his hair hurt,” said his son Japheth. Both Japheth and brother Josh are veterinarians at Highland Animal Hospital, the practice their father and Berry Bostic purchased in 1976 after founder Charles Speegle retired. Bostic has since retired, but Dave Barkman still works part-time in the clinic off S. McPherson Church Road.

The Barkman kids, including daughter Mandy Barkman Middleton, called family friend Brian Rose, a physician assistant with Valley Cardiology & Vascular Clinics. He advised they get their dad to the emergency room right away for a chest X-Ray. Barkman wound up being admitted to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in cardiac distress from the effects of flu and subsequent pneumonia.

“He was so lucky we caught it in time,” said cardiologist Dr. Augustine George. “If you have shortness of breath, don’t ignore it.”

Doctors performed cardioversion to “reset” the rhythm of Barkman’s heart. Rose drove from Pinehurst, where he and his wife were celebrating their wedding anniversary, to check on his friend in the hospital. “He was so sick so quickly,” Rose said.

“When someone presents with heart failure, you don’t always know how things are going to play out. Aggressive care goes a long way. It’s a
good thing his children were on top of things.”

According to American Heart Association statistics, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Prompt recognition of symptoms is critical. They include shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, swelling and nausea.

Barkman’s symptoms were severe despite the fact that he and his wife Karen had flu vaccinations, just as they do every year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu shots are especially important for people with cardiac issues.

“I’d never been in the hospital before,” Barkman said. “I can’t say enough about the staff and the care I received. Once the heart issue was taken care of, I felt fine. All the pain and achiness were gone.

“I’ve been walking every day for two years now,” he said. “I consider myself as having recovered completely.”