An Interview with... Drs. Jerry and Nancy Jaax

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Mar 01, 2005
By dvm360.com staff

What's the most exciting change you've seen in veterinary medicine?


In the hot zone. Cols. Jaax in a level four biosafety laboratory at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in 1998.
Jerry and Nancy: The emergence of veterinarians in public health and national security. People such as Col. David L. Huxsoll, former commander, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease (USAMRIID); Dr. Frederick A. Murphy, former head of the special pathogens branch of the CDC; Col. David R. Franz, vice president of the Midwest Research Institute and former USAMRIID commander; Rear Adm. Robert Whitney, former acting surgeon general of the United States, and many other national and international leaders in public health.

Who was your most memorable patient and why?

Nancy: Little Rex, a sentry dog in Germany at a tactical nuclear weapons depot who was absolutely fearless. He was 45 pounds of heart and teeth and embodied the concept "Attitude is everything."

Jerry: During the Reston Ebola outbreak, a monkey we suspected of being infected with Ebola virus got out of its cage in the quarantine facility. Several of us spent the better part of a day trying to catch it. When we talk about the Reston incident, we compare the frustration of that day with the Hollywood version in the movie "Outbreak," in which an infected monkey was coaxed from a tree and captured within minutes. It is a great example of reality vs. Hollywood.

What was the overall atmosphere at the Reston lab during the outbreak?

Jerry and Nancy: Because we were dealing with something new, we were forced to improvise and execute a plan on the fly. In a week's time, our team's initial excitement, tension, and uncertainty gave way to exhaustion.

Who inspired you most in your career and why?

Jerry and Nancy: We both think that the other influenced our careers the most. Every career move or decision we have made was made as a team. The choices made jointly were certainly different from those that we would have made independently. Had we not gotten married in vet school, it is highly likely that both of our careers would have taken completely different paths.

What was the best professional advice you ever received?

Jerry and Nancy: In 1978, we were preparing to leave the Army and go into private practice. Brigadier General Thomas Murnane, chief of the Army Veterinary Corps, advised us to consider postgraduate residencies in pathology and lab animal medicine at the USAMRIID at Ft. Detrick, Md.

What would you advise a new graduate?

Jerry and Nancy: Keep your options open as far as career paths.You can never predict where you will be or what will happen. It is amazing how many veterinarians we know who have ended up in careers that are totally different from what they expected during veterinary school.

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

Jerry: Both. Nancy: Dog. We have had many great (and some not so great) dogs and cats over the years and have been involved in breeding both dogs and cats. We've had Siamese, Himalayan, Maine coon, and yellow barn cats; a keeshond; Irish setters; an English setter; Airedales; Bouvier des Flandres; and boxers. It wouldn't be home without at least one dog and cat around.

What book would you recommend and why?

Nancy: Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. I love historical fiction. My work is intense and technical, and I read fiction for relaxation and enjoyment.

Jerry: Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War by Judith Miller and two other reporters at the The New York Times. It's a fascinating review of the history of offensive biowarfare programs. Germs gives a chilling perspective of the potential for proliferation of biological agents from old offensive biowarfare programs active during the cold war. It brings home why we are so concerned about bioterrorism now.