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Virginia board suspends veterinarian's license indefinitely

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Randi B. Hagi
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Ayman Salem (standing) and his attorney, Michael Thorsen, at the proceedings in Henrico.

A veterinarian with practices in Winchester and Harrisonburg has lost his license to practice – for now. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi has the details. Please be aware that this story includes some upsetting and graphic medical content.

In the latest installment of veterinarian Ayman Salem's disciplinary saga, the Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine ruled unanimously on Friday that his license is suspended indefinitely, for a minimum of two years. The board of practicing veterinarians held a formal hearing last week on five separate cases concerning his treatment of animals in 2021.

The Commonwealth's adjudication specialists, who basically function as prosecutors in these types of hearings, had requested that his license be fully revoked. They presented testimony from 12 witnesses, including four of five dog owners, and all five of their regular veterinarians who treated the dogs after they were in Salem's care. Salem's only witness was himself.

Among the witnesses: Curt Shade, who had taken his dog Tucker to the Silver Spring Veterinary Hospital in Winchester because he wasn't able to urinate. Salem diagnosed him with kidney stones, and began operating – but called Shade part way through to say he couldn't finish the surgery because he was unable to get a catheter in the dog's urethra. Shade had to rush Tucker to another clinic in Leesburg for them to re-operate.

CURT SHADE: He was dying. He was barely breathing. I mean, I'm not a vet to give the terms that are accurate, but he was not well.

Dr. Sienna Church, who works at the Leesburg clinic, testified that Tucker was blind and had a very weak pulse and blood pressure when he arrived due to over sedation. The surgeon there informed her that there had been multiple stones left in bladder, and the incision made at Salem's office was leaking urine into his abdominal cavity. Thankfully, their operation was successful, and Tucker fully recovered.

Next was the case of Levi, an 11-year-old lab. His owner, Jacob Bogart, took him to the Harrisonburg Veterinary Emergency Clinic for being lethargic. Salem diagnosed him with heatstroke and gave him fluids, and allegedly released Levi to Jacob's father-in-law the next day with no indication that there was a bigger problem. The father-in-law also testified that when he went to get Levi, Salem wheeled him out on a gurney and roughly flipped him into the back of the car.

Salem's attorney, Michael Thorsen, asked him about this.

MICHAEL THORSEN: Did you drop the dog, flip the dog into the car?

AYMAN SALEM: Okay, how are we doing to move this dog from the cart to the car? You have to flip him a little bit. This is a normal situation.

When Levi continued to get worse, Jacob took him to Veterinary Emergency Services in Verona later that day, where he was seen by Dr. Renee Addison. She diagnosed Levi with sepsis stemming from an infection, and said that he likely would have died soon without medical intervention. The Bogarts decided to euthanize him that evening.

Then there was Cal – a dog with a history of eating foreign objects. His owner, Taylor Wilcher, took him to Salem's emergency clinic because he was vomiting and lethargic. Salem did bloodwork and x-rays, and said neither showed any major issues. Wilcher then took Cal to their regular vet, Westwood Animal Hospital in Staunton. Dr. Hannah Plaugher said that their x-rays showed the classical appearance of a physical obstruction. They did surgery, and successfully removed the compacted pieces of a rubber duckie he had eaten.

In both this case and that of a dog named Snoopy, one of the issues was Salem's bloodwork, because it showed chemistry results that two vets testified –

HANNAH PLAUGHER: They would not be consistent with life, no.

Adjudication Specialist Emily Tatum pressed Salem on this.

EMILY TATUM: So you have two situations within a few months of each other where you're getting a very abnormal result. Did that concern that maybe this result is not correct?

SALEM: I do, this concerned me. … The machine that I have, they perform monthly maintenance. I mean, [huffs] what I can do with that? I mean, they already do it, you know!

The fifth case in the hearings concerned a Great Dane named Addison – and I'll add an extra content warning here that the allegations from her owners are particularly horrifying. They took her to Salem's Harrisonburg clinic for a C-section. Salem testified that she birthed one puppy on the x-ray table, and then he removed another nine via C-section. Two days after the procedure, she called her regular vet, Dr. Thomas Burgess with Broadway Veterinary Hospital –

THOMAS BURGESS: … and said that the mother dog Addison had passed another pup. After the C-section, passed another pup.

TATUM: … Is that a common issue, after a C-section? [Burgess guffaws] For a puppy to be born stillborn?

THORSEN: I'm going to object … the witnesses are not here to provide expert testimony.

Addison's owners provided a photo of the stillborn puppy to investigators. Salem's attorney seemed to suggest that it could have come from another dog, since the owners breed Great Danes. Salem claimed they made the whole thing up, and said he has disgruntled clients all the time who do this.

SALEM: They always throw the stuff in your face, so they're asking for the money. I said, "sir, this never happened. How could I leave a three-pound puppy?"

The board deliberated for a little less than two hours before announcing their decision. This is the second time Salem’s license has been suspended, and the fifth time he's been disciplined by the board.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.
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