Neurology Service at WSU: Featured Patients
David and Vernie Greenhalgh of British Columbia,
Canada with Mr. Bear at WSU.
Meet Mr. Bear
Mr. Bear is one of thousands of patients who has
been helped because of an MRI
In the spring of 2013, Joel Greenhalgh of British Columbia, Canada noticed
an odd lump on the top of his dog's head. He took "Mr. Bear," a then
11-year-old Australian Sheppard-Rottweiler mix, to his local veterinarian.
At first the advice was to watch and see, but when it didn't go away, his
veterinarian took a biopsy. Mr. Bear had cancer.
Because of the location of the tumor, local specialists were hesitant to
perform surgery. Joel had heard about teaching hospitals from a family
friend and began doing some research.
"Our oncologist recommended WSU and told us that it is one of the best
facilities in the world," said Joel.
Unable to get away from work to make the 400-mile trip to Pullman, Joel's
parents, Vernie and David Greenhalgh, offered to drive Mr. Bear to WSU for
treatment. "Time was of the essence," said Joel.
Joel and Mr. Bear are an improbable pair. When he first met Mr. Bear at a
local shelter, Joel was positive he did not want a dog. But his girlfriend
at the time did. So, Joel looked at a few dogs and picked then 6-year-old
Mr. Bear. He made it clear it would be her dog. But, as the years went by,
the girlfriend left and Mr. Bear stayed. Joel had grown very attached to
him. Because of Mr. Bear's age, some people discouraged Joel from bringing
him to WSU and suggested maybe he should consider letting Mr. Bear go. That
wasn't a thought Joel was ready to consider.
"He was full of energy and happy," said Greenhalgh. "I wanted to do
So, Joel got online and started a fund to raise money for what they expected
to be a simple surgery to remove the lump. Joel's parents drove Mr. Bear to
"We didn't know what to expect," said Vernie Greenhalgh, Joel's mother.
"But we were immediately impressed. It was very welcoming and pet friendly.
We felt secure that we would get the best care."
From the parking right outside the hospital, to the kindness extended to Mr.
Bear, Vernie and her husband, David, knew they had made the right decision
to bring him to WSU.
They met with neurologist Dr. Annie Chen and fourth-year veterinary student,
Beryl Swanson. "They were so kind to him and so patient and gracious with
us," said Vernie. But they also didn't waste any time getting the needed
tests right away, she said.
Mr. Bear was sent for an MRI scan to assess the tumor. That's when they
received the devastating news.
"After seeing the results of the scans, we realized the situation was much
worse than what we had originally thought," said Vernie.
The Greenhalghs had believed Mr. Bear just had a lump on the outside of the
skull. But the MRI results showed the cancerous skull tumor was growing
into the skull and pressing on the brain. Dr. Chen and her team took MRI
scans from several different angles and used different techniques to see the
exact location of the tumor and where the blood vessels were.
"MRI is the best way for us to evaluate the brain," says Dr. Chen. "We
needed to know how far the tumor had extended. To know up to the millimeter
is very important."
And by knowing where the edges of the tumor were, they could better explain
to Joel and his parents what the benefits and risks of the surgery were
going to be. The tumor was also growing very close to a major blood vessel,
which added to the risk.
"By having the images, we felt confident we could approach that area and do
the surgery," said Dr. Chen.
What Joel and his parents had anticipated would be a smaller surgery, was
now going to be a much more complicated one. And more expensive.
"It was a very difficult decision," said Vernie. Joel had been raising
money but now he realized he's need to raise even more. In the end, Joel
raised over $4000 from generous friends and strangers to save Mr. Bear.
After long and very delicate surgery, Dr. Chen and her team were able to
remove more than 90% of the tumor. Because she knew where the vessel was
from the MRI scan, Dr. Chen was able to tease the tumor away from the vessel
and not tear it.
"Dr. Chen did a miraculous job," said Vernie. WSU oncologists followed up
with radiation treatment to kill the remainder of the cancer cells.
After Mr. Bear's recovery, Joel's father, David, was himself diagnosed with
cancer. Joel brought Mr. Bear to visit him at the hospital.
"He had helped the dog and now the dog was there to help him," said Joel.
David walked with Mr. Bear at the hospital. It brightened his mood and
those of fellow patients. Seeing the happiness Mr. Bear brought gave Joel an
idea. He decided to submit an application for Mr. Bear to become a therapy
dog. They hope Mr. Bear will soon be visiting senior homes and hospitals.
"As a cancer survivor himself, Mr. Bear can bring comfort and joy," said
Whether it was WSU student Beryl Swanson housing Mr. Bear while he needed to
stay in Pullman, Joel's parents driving Mr. Bear more than 400 miles to WSU,
or strangers and friends donating whatever they could, every piece mattered,
student, Beryl Swanson
with Mr. Bear after
"Part of the healing they received is all the love they get from the
staff, students and doctors," said Vernie. "Animals can sense an environment
where there is that kindness and love. It gives the animal the will to
This spring, they will follow up and have another MRI to see whether the
tumor has returned. "It is a slow growing cancer, so the surgery bought him
some time," said Dr. Chen. "The hope is it will bring him a few good
"WSU saved my dog's life," said Joel.
Coda: Joel's ex-girlfriend, Amanda, returned from London last August after
Mr. Bear's recovery. The two of them had stayed in touch over the years
because of Mr. Bear. Now Joel, Amanda and Mr. Bear are happily back