Five-year-old Mastiff Lady Bender was once young, but now she has severe arthritis in the hips. Sometimes the pain was so acute, she had trouble standing up on her own. Her overweight frame made her arthritis worse. Bender had been using her upper body to get around and nearly exhausted those muscles, said Janice Bender, her owner.
That was about two years ago. But since Janice took her to see Dr. Joe Whalen, owner of LePar Animal Hospital at 3811 W. 95th St., she is now 20 pounds lighter, has minimal pain and gets around with no problem. Whalen has been treating Bender since June, 2011, but in 2010, he became the first veterinarian in Illinois to successfully use stem cell therapy to treat orthopedic issues in animals on-site.
LePar Animal Hospital offers general veterinary services in the village, but Whalen moonlights at Chicago Animal Rehab, 10051 S. Kitty Ave. in Chicago Ridge, helping pets work through various orthopedic issues.
“About two-thirds of our patients are geriatric dogs that still have a good quality of life but just need the help offered by rehabilitation, acupuncture and chiropractic treatments. The other one-third of our patients are recovering from surgery and injuries,” he said.
Whalen uses a combination of stem cell therapy, cruciate ligament repair, underwater treadmill and monthly chiropractic and acupuncture treatments to treat Bender’s condition. Depending on the severity of the pain, Whalen adjusts his treatment plan to fit each animal.
"It still amazes me to think that Lady's own stem cells are utilized to aide in getting her to feel better," said Janice. "Lady is able to get up freely, she's able to walk wherever she wants, whenever she wants, and as frequently as she wants." Thanks to Whalen's therapy, Janice said "Lady got her life back. She was made whole again."
Stem cell therapy for arthritic conditions has been used for some time. But Whalen’s method was groundbreaking because he used fresh stem cells and performed the entire process on-site. "Prior to processing the stem cells in a hospital, they had to be shipped to an outside factory and shipped back later," he said. "In that process, you lose about half of those stem cells.” Whalen performed that initial procedure on Bender in-house.
The 20-year veteran said he’s always loved working with animals, but it was after practicing for a few years that his own injury inspired him to branch out into alternative medicine.
“My journey into alternative medicine started with my own neck injury. After MRI's, rest and a month of Ibuprofen, I had a hard time lifting up my left arm. Since I was given no other reasonable options by my physicians, I went to a chiropractor and was 80 percent better after one adjustment,” said Whalen. “After this I knew I had to get trained in this to help my own patients.”
Whalen’s desire to learn more about alternative medicine lead him to complete veterinary chiropractic training at the Healing Oasis in 2000 and veterinary acupuncture training at the Chi Institute in 2004. Every day, he helps animals like Bender improve the quality of life, relieve pain and increase mobility.
“I like the challenge of helping the 10 percent of patients that can't be helped by traditional medicine,” he said.
Whalen has owned LePar Animal Hospital since 1995, and credits its success to the entire team.
“The staff and doctors at both LePar and and Chicago Animal Rehab are truly exceptional. I don't know of any other veterinary clinic in the country that offers the array of services we do. I think we integrate the best of what Western and Eastern medicine offers,” he said. His wife Lisa helps with marketing and accounting for both LePar and Chicago Animal Rehab.
Although splitting time between both businesses and having a family can get busy, Whalen said he still makes sure his practice gives back to the community. He collects unused human and veterinary supplies and donates them to various veterinary shelters.
“So many useful supplies get thrown away, especially at human hospitals,” said Whalen. “Last year, seven veterinary clinics and two hospitals donated items that I distributed. I hope to expand this.” Whalen said he and his team recently collected two pick-up truckloads of supplies for PAWS in Tinley Park.
LePar Animal Hospital also closes one afternoon around Christmas and offers free photos for pets and their families with Santa.