Veterinary cardiologist advances feline health through research

Closeup of Ryan Baumwart holding a cat.
Ryan Baumwart

“I call myself the wandering cardiologist,” said Dr. Ryan Baumwart, who joined Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in May 2020.

Baumwart, a full-time cardiology professor, arrived in Pullman with a vision for advancing animal health and a lifetime of caring for animals. This passion was kindled in Baumwart’s childhood at Highland Veterinary Clinic in Arapaho, Oklahoma which was founded by Ryan’s father, Dr. Alvin Baumwart.

“My brother, sister, and I grew up around animals and worked in our dad’s clinic,” Baumwart said. “Though we worked with him, he always encouraged us to pursue other careers. We all looked into different professions, but all gravitated back to veterinary medicine. Our father was a role model for us and we loved the work. That’s why we pursued it.”

Prior to joining WSU, Baumwart’s educational and professional journey was paved with experiences that took him from coast to coast.

In 2002, he received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Oklahoma State University. He then completed a four-year residency in cardiovascular medicine at Ohio State University. Following this residency, he worked at a specialty hospital in Idaho for nearly four years. While in Boise, Baumwart was also an adjunct faculty member at WSU. After Idaho, he headed to a specialty clinic in South Carolina for three years and then back to OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital for seven years.

Baumwart discovers a passion for cardiology

Among his stops was a cardiology rotation at the California Animal Hospital in Los Angeles. This experience was one of many in Baumwart’s life where his vision for serving animal health converged with an unforeseen opportunity.

His mentor at California Animal Hospital was Dr. Steve Ettinger. One afternoon, a famous musician brought his boxer in to be seen by Dr. Ettinger, a cardiology specialist. Dr. Ettinger examined the dog and diagnosed him immediately with a serious heart disease. An ultrasound confirmed his diagnosis.

“At that moment, I knew I wanted to do what Dr. Ettinger did,” Baumwart said. “That day, I truly fell in love with cardiology and haven’t looked back since.”

Along with his commitment to service and healing, Baumwart also arrived at WSU with plans for a research project he first mapped out at OSU. The project was a study to evaluate adverse effects of Gabapentin, a common feline sedative. Little did Baumwart know the project funding was waiting for him at WSU. Once again, his vision and opportunity converged.

The AFLAC Memorial Feline Cardiology Endowment Fund was established by Dr. Richard Carter in honor of his cat, Aflac. Not only did the AFLAC fund dovetail with Baumwart’s original research protocol, but was also in the amount Baumwart originally estimated for the project. Baumwart was awarded the funding in 2020 and his research plans were transformed into reality.

Carter was initially inspired to create the fund by veterinarians who had cared for Aflac at Green Lake Animal Hospital in Seattle.

“Aflac received exceptionally good care at the Clinic,” Carter said. “When I asked them about making a donation, they suggested WSU.”

Carter’s endowment is an example of how a donor’s passion can unite with student and faculty research aspirations through the WSU Foundation. After Baumwart received the award, he reached out to Carter to say thank you and discuss plans for the study.

“Ryan’s communication gave me a strong sense of being important in furthering research for the well-being of cats, and being appreciated for my contribution,” Carter said.

When Baumwart contemplates the future of veterinary research, he acknowledges the significance of donor contributions for research projects.

“Donor funding is essential,” he said. “Support, like the AFLAC Fund, is absolutely beneficial for projects that can provide answers to real-world problems.”

Like Baumwart, Carter also has hopes for new solutions to existing animal disease and illness, such as those that afflicted Aflac.

“Aflac was a wonderful companion. By establishing the AFLAC Memorial Feline Cardiology Endowment Fund at WSU, I have kept my fond memory of Aflac alive,” he said. “My hope is that the Fund will further research on felines that will ultimately help cats to live longer, better lives.”

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