LITTLE ROCK — Despite having an advanced degree in music, years of teaching piano wasn't cutting it for Arkansas native Elizabeth Adkins, whose lifelong love of animals inspired a career move that has spawned a rarity in her field.
LITTLE ROCK — Despite having an advanced degree in music, years of teaching piano wasn’t cutting it for Arkansas native Elizabeth Adkins, whose lifelong love of animals inspired a career move that has spawned a rarity in her field.
Adkins became a veterinary ophthalmologist and recently performed eye surgery on a bat weighing less than an ounce.
The 15-minute surgery, which she performed using a surgical microscope on an delicate organ about the size of two pin heads, is believed to be one of the first surgeries ever performed on a bat in the U.S., according to the Hope Center for Advanced Veterinary Medicine in Washington, D.C.
“It was kind of scary,” Watkins, who works at the Hope Center and lives outside the nation’s capital, acknowledged in an interview last week with the Arkansas News Bureau. Because of the animal’s size, she had to be careful with the amount of anesthesia used and with the amount of blood loss caused by removing the infected eye.
“The surgery was frightening from those two perspectives,” she said. “I’d never operated on an animal that small. It was a little smaller than the palm of my hand … very tiny.”
Adkins said that before performing the surgery, she searched the Internet for articles on surgeries on the eyes of bats and found none. She also sent an e-mail to veterinarians across the country seeking advice and received no responses.
The adult hoary bat, named Jorge, has fully recovered and is part of an education program conducted by Bat World Nova, an organization in northern Virginia that promotes the conservation and protection of bats.
Adkins’ journey to veterinary medicine was not the most conventional.
She was raised in Gravel Ridge and graduated from Sylvan Hills High School in 1982.
An oboe and piano player, she was on the flag line in the high school band before enrolling at the University of Central Arkansas to study music.
Her mother, Kathryn Adkins, who still lives in Gravel Ridge with her husband, Wallace, said her daughter always exhibited an interest in animals and she and her older sister, Jeannie, had pet birds — finches and a parakeet — as well as dogs and rabbits.
“We always had to save the lettuce leaves and cabbage leaves and they had to put them out for the rabbits,” Kathryn Adkins recalled.
She said once neighbors decided they no longer wanted a rabbit they had received for Easter, so they gave it to Elizabeth and her sister.
“That rabbit had babies and in order to take care of the babies, we brought the babies in the house and when it would come time for mom to nurse them, we would open the door and let mom in and she would nurse the rabbits and then she’d go back to the door and we’d let her out,” Kathryn Adkins said.
In high school, at least two teachers urged Elizabeth to consider studying something other than music in college, Kathryn Adkins said.
“They thought (Elizabeth) was too good of a student and would have been wasted in music,” she said.
Despite the advice, Elizabeth Adkins attended UCA, played in the marching band and symphony, and graduated with bachelor’s degree in music. She later earned a masters degree from University of Missouri at Kansas City.
But her enthusiasm for music eventually waned and she began to reassess her career choice.
“It was around 1988 or 1989 and I just wasn’t happy in the music field and my husband, said, ‘You have always talked about veterinary medicine, why don’t you give it a try,’” Elizabeth Adkins said. “Well one thing led to another … You know life goes a bunch of different directions and I ended up going to veterinary school.”
After returning to college to take some advanced science courses, she applied and was accepted to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville.
She said she decided to specialize in ophthalmology during her third year while taking a course on the subject.
“I just fell in love with the entire topic. It was fascinating,” she said. “Everything the professors said made sense to me. It was the first time in vet school that things just started making sense.”
After graduating in 1997, she attended North Carolina State, where she received a master’s degree in pharmacology. She then returned to UT-Knoxville in 2001 and did residency work in veterinary ophthalmology.
She and her husband, Alan Lindsay, a computer consultant, live in Virginia and she has been working at the Hope Center since June 2009.
In her veterinary career, Atkins has performed eye surgery on a camel, monkeys, horses, cows, goats and , of course, a bat.
“I can technically practice on any species other than human,” she said, adding she enjoys treating animals of all kinds.
“What goes around comes around,” Wallace Adkins said. “(His daughters) took care of all of them.” Elizabeth Adkins said she plans to publish details of the bat surgery in a peer-reviewed veterinary medical journal, possibly later this year.
“It’s interesting how life take you in multiple directions,” she said.