WACO, Tex. (KBTX)- Baylor University announced today that Lady, one of the University’s two American Black Bear mascots, is undergoing innovative, noninvasive radiation treatment for a benign cranial mediastinal mass, or thymoma, in her chest.
The tumor was found during a routine wellness examination with veterinarians at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Lady, 17, whose formal name is Judge Sue “Lady” Sloan, completed the treatments today at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) in College Station.
While no external signs of treatment are expected, Lady will be monitored closely and assessed by her care team to ensure her comfort and recovery, including being served a soft food diet for a few days to accommodate any throat irritation from anesthesia.
She is back on campus and resting comfortably at the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat, Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., wrote in a letter to the Baylor Family.
“Baylor University celebrates many beloved traditions, but few bring as much joy to students, alumni and friends, and as many rich opportunities to interact with and educate young people in Central Texas as our live bear mascots, Joy and Lady. They are a cherished part of the Baylor Family,” President Livingstone wrote.
“The veterinarians have begun a course of tomotherapy we hope will reduce the size of the tumor – a treatment that is believed to be the first-ever done on a bear.
We are grateful to have access to a remarkable team with the expertise needed for Lady’s care,” the president wrote. “Our priority is Lady’s comfort and wellbeing. Following the treatments, we will visit again with the veterinary team. We are optimistic about the results and Lady’s health.”
The mass next to Lady’s heart was discovered in June during a regular wellness visit under the direction of Sharman Hoppes, DVM, an exotic animal specialist with Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
A CT scan in July confirmed the mass as thymoma, a tumor that affects the thymus, an organ located near the lungs that is part of the lymphatic and immune systems.
In August, Lady was treated at VMTH with a low-dose TomoTherapy System, a state-of-the-art treatment system that targets tumors while minimizing exposure of radiation to surrounding healthy tissues and causing fewer side effects compared to conventional forms of radiation therapy. On Dec. 2 and Dec. 11-12, Lady received additional treatments.
“It shows a great level of care and respect Baylor has for these animals by bringing them to us at a specialist facility,” said J. Jill Heatley, DVM, zoological medicine specialist at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Not everybody would do this, so it is important to note that is beyond the standard level of care.”
Lady’s veterinarians said this particular tumor had never been observed in a living bear early enough to treat due to its asymptomatic nature, with no external physical or behavioral symptoms that would indicate a problem.
The only previous case of thymoma in a bear was not evident until an autopsy was performed. Veterinarians have closely monitored Lady’s tumor, which is benign and has not grown since it was discovered.
“The good news for Lady is that she has no clinical signs of the mass, which means that we caught it early,” said Lauren Smith, DVM, radiation oncologist, and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
“Thymomas are typically diagnosed when they’re so large in size that they’re compressing the heart and the lungs, causing difficulty breathing or lethargy. As we have been establishing the best treatment plan for Lady, the tumor has remained stable in size on advanced imaging. Being able to intervene at an early point is why we have a very positive outlook for her.”
But always first and foremost in any treatment is a focus on Lady’s quality of life.
“We are still able to treat this in an aggressive manner using the advanced technology while ensuring that she is able to be at home with her sister, able to eat and drink normally and able to have a good quality of life,” Dr. Smith said.
Lady and her older biological sister, Joy, 18, live in the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat, which is fully accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a Class C Zoo. The habitat is one of the most visited spots on Baylor campus, welcoming more than 250,000 visitors each year, including over 5,000 children who receive a unique educational experience developed alongside the Baylor School of Education.
The Bear has served as the Baylor mascot since 1914, with the live mascot program beginning in 1917. The Baylor Chamber of Commerce, an officially recognized student organization with oversight from the Division of Student Life, began caring for the bears in 1940.
Student trainers care for Joy and Lady seven days a week, 365 days a year, including between semesters, on major holidays and regardless of weather conditions. Each student caregiver who helps in daily feedings and enrichments is trained and mentored by leading animal care experts and veterinarians.
The Bill and Eva Williams Habitat provides Joy and Lady with two separate yards for roaming and daily enrichment activities, along with trees, two pools, a stream and waterfall, two caves and a den. The bears also enjoy regular exercise and enrichment in an outdoor, remote facility. They do not attend football games or other athletic or public events.
The bear program also has worked with Joy and Lady to accomplish “voluntary vet care,” meaning they are trained with behaviors that reduce the stress of yearly vaccinations or examinations they may need. They have been taught learned behaviors that allow the bears’ veterinarians to check their teeth, muscles and other important aspects of their physical health.
“Caring for our bears is a campus-wide commitment,” President Livingstone wrote. “I ask that you pray for our Chamber students who interact with Lady and Joy on a daily basis. They are understandably concerned by this news and are committed to following the course of care prescribed by Lady’s veterinarians.
I also ask that you lift up the veterinary team as they guide us through Lady’s treatment. These are remarkable people who care deeply and recognize the future impact on zoological treatment by what they may learn through this process. Finally, please pray for Lady as her treatment progresses and for her return to full health.”
For more information about the Baylor Bear Program, visit www.baylor.edu/bear.