“It’s come down in price to where it’s affordable in a smaller practice,” he said. “I’ve always been intrigued with new technology and I enjoy surgery. This was kind of a natural combination of the two.”
With his investment of around $30,000 for the equipment, Galle said it’s possible the upgrade may never pay for itself in his situation.
Even so, he said the investment has been worthwhile because of the way it minimizes the physical trauma of traditional scalpel surgery for the animal.
“Basically, the animal feels better,” Galle said. “The healing process itself doesn’t actually take place any faster, but there’s less discomfort. A lot of the time, they’re up and running around like nothing happened.”
De-clawing an older cat is a prime example.
“In a traditional de-claw, you have to put a tourniquet on the leg because there’s quite a bit of bleeding,” Galle said. “With this, laser, we use no tourniquet. We remove the claw and use a little tissue glue to seal the small opening.
“Younger cats usually weren’t bothered too much (when a scalpel was used), but we kept them here three days. Now, we send them home the same day or the next day.
“Older cats, which normally took one to two weeks to really want to walk again, will be walking the next day.
“That part is amazing. That’s where you really see the difference.”
How laser works
Laser surgery reduces pain, bleeding and swelling by the way it works.
“Lasers, as most people know, are just a real intense beam of energy that produces heat at a focal point,” Galle said. “When it hits water, it instantly boils it. Our cells are made up of mostly water, and the laser boils water, destroying the cell.
“By controlling the focal point, we can control how wide that beam is and just what we hit. If we want to, we can take out one hair follicle, or remove tumor tissue.
“The nice thing about it is as it cuts, it also cauterizes. So there’s no bleeding, which makes it easier to see what you’re doing and there’s just less blood to deal with.
“It also seals the nerves as it cuts through them, so there’s less pain. It seals up lymphatics, too, so there’s less swelling.”
Galle said he sat in on several seminars about laser surgery for animals before he finally decided to take the plunge.
“It’s something novel, and it let’s you do some things you couldn’t do otherwise,” he said.
A veterinarian from Illinois came to Hillsboro to train him on the equipment for one day, and taught him how to use it in eight different kinds of surgeries.
“It was nice because she actually practices (veterinary medicine) and understands everything,” Galle said. “Now, it’s mainly learning to use what you know is there.”
Safety is a priority when using laser equipment.
“Unlike the scalpel that only cuts what it touches, the beam goes until it hits something moist,” Galle said.
“I relate it to deer hunting: the bullet doesn’t stop if you miss the deer, it keeps going. Same way with the laser. If you miss the tissue, or point it at something else, it will keep going until it hits something.
“So we always wear protective glasses and we wear a special mask because of the vapors that come off as you cut. Nobody’s allowed in the surgery room without the glasses and mask.”
To this point, Galle has used laser surgery on a variety of procedures, including de-claws, spays, neuters and tumor removal.
“Tumor removal is where I really like it,” he said. “Every time I’ve done a tumor over the past 10 years, I’ve said, ‘I wish I had a laser for this.’ It makes it very nice for that work.”
While laser surgery lends itself best to small animals, Galle said he plans to use it in his large-animal practice when circumstances call for it.
“In bovine (cattle), you’re dealing with a lot bigger tumors sometimes—we’re still learning there,” he said. “There hasn’t been a lot done in that area simply because of the cost of it.”
To offset the cost of the equipment, Galle charges more for using a laser for a particular surgery than for using a scalpel—between $20 to $100, depending on the procedure.
“It does elevate the cost somewhat, but for most people—especially if they’ve seen the reduction in the pain and the bleeding—it’s a higher quality of service,” he said.
A new phase of service
Galle has been operating his Hillsboro clinic for some 34 years already. Why invest in a major equipment upgrade at this point in his career?
“I guess a lot of people have written me off, but I’m probably going to be around another 10 years or so because I enjoy what I do,” he said with a smile.
“I enjoy working with the animals, and using innovative things to help an animal,” Galle added. “I guess it’s been a part of my life so long I just enjoy getting up and doing that.
“The community’s been good to us, as far as supporting the practice,” he added. “We’ve decided to stay here another five to 10 years, Lord willing—or it may end tomorrow.”
Introducing laser surgery into the practice has renewed his enthusiasm for veterinary work. He recently acquired laser-therapy equipment that will enable him to help ease pain in animals once he’s trained to operate it.
For the time being, laser surgery is invigorating enough.
“It’s not right for all situations, but there are advantages for using it at times.” he said. “The big advantages are less pain, less bleeding, less swelling—and all the different things we can do with it.”