Born in San Borja, Peru, Jose Oyola Morales discovered his love for animals on his grandparents’ farm. He later lived in Delaware and chose Oklahoma State University as the place where he would earn his DVM degree—or would he?
It was in the spring of 2015 as Oyola Morales was finishing his second year of veterinary college that the headaches began. One of the headaches was so severe it caused him to vomit for several hours.
“If you looked at me back then, there was nothing necessarily besides my symptoms that said anything was actually brewing underneath,” recalled Oyola Morales. “But Dr. Anderson at the OSU clinic picked up on the clues and said let’s just go get you an MRI. That evening I had an MRI at Stillwater Medical Center. That was probably one of the best hospitals I’ve been to. The radiologist pulled me aside after it was done and said I just want to take a moment and talk to you about the images that we have because otherwise, you’re going to worry for the entire week before my actual final report comes out.
“He showed me the pictures and it’s very clear that there is this mass on the right side of my brain. The first thought that comes to mind—is it cancer? He said in this case it’s not. It’s actually called an arteriovenous malformation or AVM. It’s an abnormality of vessels in which an artery goes straight into a vein instead of going into a capillary.”
Based on his symptoms, Jose was advised to see a neurosurgeon in the area as quickly as he could.
“They ultimately referred me to Mercy in Oklahoma City,” continued Oyola Morales. “They did all the diagnostic workup but their prognosis was that most likely I was going to lose vision if they removed the AVM. I wasn’t very happy about the prognosis because as a veterinarian, you need to have good sight to complete your job, especially because you’re going to be examining animals every day. You’re trying to pick up on those small clues and losing 50 percent of my vision wasn’t necessarily something that I was very comfortable with.”
It was very difficult for Jose. He had a lot of thinking to do. The chance of him finishing veterinary school was in jeopardy. If left untreated, the AVM could rupture. He would most likely have permanent brain damage or he could even die. If removed, he could lose part of his vision. The finances of the situation put him in a difficult position as well.
“One evening I decided to contact one of the leading neurosurgeons, Dr. Michael Lawton at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center,” he said. “When I emailed him, I didn’t really think he was going to reply because he’s probably very sought after not to mention that it was just one of those emails from a random person.”
However, the next morning Jose had a reply.
“I told him my story and that I was in school in veterinary medicine. He said he wouldn’t charge me for the consultation fee, he would look at the files and get back to me. Within a week or so, probably in April 2015, he asked me to come to California. We’ll do further diagnostics to track down exactly where the AVM is located and have it removed safely for you. He said I can promise you I’ll do my best to avoid having you lose any vision. I think it was his willingness to promise that that really made me go with him. Everyone else was hesitant to give me any sort of good prognostics. And I understand, I know that you want to be very careful with what you relay to clients. And so his willingness to sort of make that promise, even though you know it would be difficult, is what made me go forward with him.”
Jose had the surgery in California the summer of 2015. His girlfriend and classmate, Melissa Nelson, accompanied him on the trip. It was a long process.
“It took three days—one day to do the diagnostics, then the surgery, and then further diagnostics to make sure everything was taken care of and luckily, it was a success. That summer we were both working at OSU. She was helping Dr. Jared Taylor with one of his projects and I was helping Dr. Todd Holbrook with one of his projects. Both Drs. Taylor and Holbrook were excellent in terms of helping us schedule everything so that we could both fly out there so that she could be with me during the entire procedure. I chose to bring her to California because I thought that my mom and my dad would be very, very nervous and I didn’t want to put them through that ordeal. My parents stayed by my side—calling me every day, talking to me, encouraging me. Melissa was there to physically help me. Once I came out of the surgery, I had a moment in which I was very lucid. Everything was normal and then all of a sudden, my brain swelled, as expected, and then I couldn’t walk. I had a hard time talking, a hard time focusing. She was there just helping me to move forward and I think that made a big difference.”
Jose spent seven more days hospitalized before going home to finish his recovery. He has some residual effects from the AVM.
“I have a bit of a blurry visual field on the left corner of my left eye. Wearing glasses helps me not focus on that little edge of blurriness. It doesn’t affect my driving. It doesn’t affect my surgical skills or my medicine at all. It’s just one of those things that reminds you of what you went through. I’m very excited because it’s one of the things that I was very concerned about—whether I was going to have any visual loss that would impede me from doing the job that I want to do which is veterinary medicine.”
And how did Jose handle the medical expenses on top of the cost of earning a veterinary medical degree? It was through the help of generous scholarship donors that made it possible for Jose to pursue his dream.
“I think those scholarships were lifesaving. When I was going through this entire process, I was always worried about how am I going to cover all these expenses. I had already taken out a set of loans to finance my education. The money that was provided through those scholarships allowed me to cover my academic expenses and gave me the opportunity to funnel the loans that I had taken out into covering what was medical. So without them (scholarships) it would have been impossible for me to juggle the finances doing the diagnostic workup for my condition and then going and having the surgery.
“I couldn’t have picked a better place than Oklahoma State to be diagnosed and treated with this. The fact that we have the opportunity to offer student scholarships and cover these events that are unplanned whether it is medical or personal, I think that in itself is so wonderful. I am very, very thankful to the donors for supporting our veterinary school and in helping me finish my degree.”
Jose graduated with the class of 2017 on May 12.
“I’m very excited to have made it this far and I’m very excited for what lies ahead. I’m thankful for the staff, both academic and general, who have helped me get here. I think all the training that I have received has prepared me to be a practice ready veterinarian. I think I’m going to go out there and have a lot of fun. I’m going to make the best of everything that’s happened and I really look forward to being a veterinarian finally.”
Following graduation, the couple moved to Texas. Jose will practice at a Banfield Veterinary Hospital in Denton, Texas, and Melissa will join a Banfield Veterinary Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. Both will be focused on small animal medicine with some exotic pets such as rabbits, hamsters, lizards and snakes, etc.
Throughout his four years in the veterinary program at Oklahoma State, Jose received the following scholarships:
- Austin and Audrey Weedn Foundation Scholarship (2014 and 2016)
- Dr. Craig and Mrs. Stephanie Jones Endowed Scholarship (2015)
- Ethel Peters Endowed Scholarship (2017)
- Robert G. and Karen F. Beach Scholarship (2017)
- American College of Veterinary Radiology Award (2017)
“Dr. Jose Oyola Morales perfectly exemplifies the type of student we had in mind when we created the Dr. Craig and Stephanie Jones Endowed Scholarship,” said Craig. “Many times during veterinary school I found myself in financial need. An anonymous donor stepped forward to help me during this struggle and I promised I would one day repay the generosity. I am honored that a young man such as Jose was the recipient of our scholarship.”
If you would like to support veterinary student scholarships, please contact Chris Sitz, Sr. Director of Development with the OSU Foundation, at (405) 385-5170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Above Photo by Phil Shockley