When it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of equines, Dr. Kent Allen says, “The reality is that you can’t have too much information.”
At Virginia Equine Imaging (VEI) on Landmark School Road between The Plains and Middleburg, Allen and his experienced team take sport horse medicine, pre-purchase exams, lameness and veterinary medicine to a new threshold, thanks to diagnostic imaging technology.
Following the physical exam of observation and palpation of soft tissue, the referring veterinarian and Allen and his staff harvest and interpret the information gathered by whichever “high tech tool” was considered most appropriate.
VEI’s diagnostic imaging technology includes high-resolution digital nuclear scintigraphy, which pinpoints areas of bony inflammation. Digital ultrasonography for superficial musculoskeletal structures (tendons, ligaments, collateral ligaments and joints) also can be used for the foot, navicular area, and musculoskeletal pelvic exam, and for ultrasound-guided injection and blocking techniques. The first direct digital radiology (DDR) unit to be used in veterinary practice in the world was installed in 2002 at VEI, now with a total of four units.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is another tool in VEI’s kit of high tech diagnostics. Allen and his team operate the EMC magnet two days a week, in cooperation with the Marion DuPont Scott Equine Medical Center. MRI shows up edema (swelling) in both the bony and soft tissue structures of the lower limb that hitherto had been difficult to image.
High-resolution infrared thermography pinpoints inflammatory changes in joints and tendons beneath the skin, which has proven helpful in tendon rehabilitation. Imaging technology can often detect problems brewing before they result in acute lameness, making these state-of-the-art diagnostics ideal for sport horses and pre-purchase examinations.
“People used to say that’s too much information, but now they realize that you can never have too much information,” said Allen. “The most dramatic cases are when you use the information to save a horse’s career, when a horse has been retired to a field and you are able to turn it around and bring that horse back to a high level of performance.
“You never forget those cases. Getting to the bottom of a complex diagnosis is a reward in itself, because it’s a puzzle. The education process comes from the horses teaching me something new every day, the luxury of the tools and collaborating with colleagues.”
Allen stays current on the latest advances, admitting that he’s adamant about frequent upgrades to their technology. “Our in-clinic digital radiology is now wireless,” he said. “We were getting amazing images, but we had wires all over the place. Now, no wires, and the exam is faster, more efficient and the images are gorgeous.”
His professional interest in nuclear medicine and belief that ultrasound could be applied to veterinary medicine made him a bit of a pioneer in the early days of high tech equine imaging.
“There were probably 10-12 of us who were intrigued with imaging,” Allen recalled. “We were messing around with musculoskeletal ultrasound in the early 1980s. I had bought a machine and then a better one. You taught yourself or found a peer, another vet, and discussed interpreting the information. We went to human sonographers and attended lots of meetings, etc.”
Now Allen teaches the latest imaging techniques to other vets at meetings around the globe. In 2006, he and other prominent equine sports medicine vets met to form the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology (iselp.org). It offers certification training to improve how imaging techniques are practiced around the world.
A 1979 graduate of the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, Allen established his practice, which he grew into the Arizona Equine Medical and Surgical Center in Phoenix. In 1996, he had a pivotal and very busy year. He sold his practice and moved to Middleburg where he founded VEI, the first clinic of its kind in private equine practice. He also coordinated the veterinary services for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
His work takes him, literally, around the horse world. Each April, he takes his staff with him when he heads up the veterinary services at Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event, the premier “four-star” competition this side of the Atlantic Ocean. He served as official vet coordinator at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. He went to London for the Olympics as the Foreign Veterinary Delegate for the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI).
A dedicated family man, he met and married his wife, Dr. Rae Stone, in vet school. Stone became involved with dolphin medicine and co-founded Dolphin Quest. She’s also an avid equestrian. They have two sons, Austin and Forrest. The whole family rides to hounds.
“I’m the serious amateur,” Allen quipped. “My other hobby is cooking. My dad picked up cooking late in life and I did the same thing. I’ve done cooking classes in Tuscany and France. I cook, we sit around with friends—it’s great.”
The bottom line is that Allen puts himself wholeheartedly into his work and his play.
“It’s important that we give it back,” he said. “I go to my veterinary school and once a year I sponsor or give a talk in honor of my dad who taught vet medicine there. It’s not just that you get to do all these cool things. You serve on boards, you teach people, you spend the effort and energy to make sure other people can get the opportunities the way I did.”