For more than 15 years, Dr. Eric Hudson and his wife, Christina, have faithfully tended to sick and injured animals at their family business, Cedars Veterinary Hospital.
The gentle, 6-foot-plus Hudson often sat on the floor to calm a scared or skittish animal. He worked six days a week at his solo practice on Drum Point Road. On the seventh day, neither he nor Christina rested. They went to the office on Sundays to do paperwork and feed the three resident cats who live there.
“He’s wonderful,” Hudson’s office manager, Lynn Conway, said. “Dr. Doolittle is the best way I could describe him.”
The Hudsons’ love of animals doesn’t end at the office. Some of the hurt and abandoned animals Jersey Shore Animal Center workers brought in for treatment ended up at the Hudsons’ Cherry Quay Road home, as permanent members of the family.
All of their pets — two dogs and four cats — were animal rescues. Their dog Annie, an Australian cattle mix once half dead from anemia, dozed at Hudson’s feet during a recent interview at the couple’s home. And the Hudsons still foster other animals and try to find homes for them.
“They usually wind up in the Hudson home of rehabilitation,” Christina Hudson joked.
“We’ve got the space, what the heck,” Hudson said with a smile. “There’s hope for all who enter here.”
But the man who was an animal person “from the get-go” as a small boy in West Virginia has had to stop practicing, at least temporarily. Hudson, 51, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in August.
When Hudson’s clients learned of his illness, they cried, Conway said.
“Not only is he my boss, he’s a very good friend,” Conway said. “I must have told the story a dozen times a day, and each time it was very upsetting.”
And now many of those whose lives were touched by the popular veterinarian are giving back to the family in their time of need. His clients continue to use the practice, now staffed by volunteer veterinarians from around the state.
The couple traveled to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia every morning for six weeks this fall, so Eric could undergo a grueling series of radiation treatments. And each night when they arrived home, dinner was waiting on the table for them, courtesy of their friends from the Metedeconk River Yacht Club and neighbors.
And not just any dinner, Hudson is quick to point out. Gourmet meals.
“The meal would be a person’s signature dish,” he said.
A colleague sent out an email blast to veterinarians informing them of Hudson’s illness. The response was immediate. Vets from all over the state and even one from New York continue to volunteer their time to keep Hudson’s practice going.
“We have three vets who are pretty much the staff,” Christina said. “We’ve had doctors volunteer themselves for a day. Our calendar is filled into March. It’s just been the most amazing thing. The first week he was out of work I didn’t know what to do.”
Dr. Thomas D. Scavelli, director and owner of Garden State Veterinary Specialists in Tinton Falls, is one of them.
He and Hudson had discussed various patients over the years. The two men were voices over the telephone. But when he heard about Hudson’s illness, Scavelli didn’t hesitate.
“He calls up and says, ‘What do you need?’ ” Christina said.
“I knew he had a very successful solo practice,” Scavelli said. “His patients were very dependent on him. I said, ‘I gotta do something.’ I run a practice that has 30 vets in it. If I can’t take off, who can? I’ll do whatever I can to help. We’ll try to keep the practice running until he can get through therapy.
“The clients have been very loyal to the practice and still have confidence in his staff and the relief veterinarians,” he added. “He certainly has the will and the determination, as does Chris and his staff. He’s got three wonderful children. They’re a very strong, close family. I think they are doing phenomenally through a very, very difficult time.”
The Hudsons, who have been married for 30 years, have three grown children — Andrew, who teaches biology at Bernards High School; Meredith, who teaches graphic arts at Burlington High School; and Justin, a Wall Township police officer.
“Thank God for my wife,” Hudson said. “She keeps track of everything. She’s like a whirling dervish.”
Conway’s husband, Robert, and other friends quickly went to work making the Hudsons’ home handicapped accessible, including installing guardrails on the walls and revamping the bathrooms.
Hudson hit his lowest point around Thanksgiving, when he reeled from the effects of multiple radiation treatments and had to use wheelchair at times.
“He didn’t have an appetite for a very long time, one of the side effects from radiation,” Christina said
On the mend
But now his appetite is back with vengeance. He’s currently receiving injections of Avastin, recently approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration to treat brain tumors. The tumor has all but disappeared. A wheelchair sits unused next to the pool table in the recreation room.
“I hope I never use it again,” Hudson said.
The tumor affects the left-handed Hudson’s left arm and leg. His physical therapy focuses on retraining his body on his left side.
“I don’t trust myself,” he said. “My shortterm memory is non-existent. My motor skills, I’m not focused … with the way my hand is now.”
And he worries about his clients and patients.
“It’s very uncomfortable to go to someone for 15 years and all of a sudden that person is not there,” Hudson said. “It’s a relationship. After a couple of visits, I know who you are and where you are coming from.”
But he hopes to go back to work eventually, once his memory and weakness in his left leg and arm improve.
“I intend to,” Hudson said. “We have a lot of people praying for us and a lot of support. I want to thank everybody for their support. It’s all been positive. I have no complaints. My memory’s a little screwed up, but I feel good. I feel fantastic.”
Hudson credits his love of animals to his grandmother back in West Virginia.
“My grandmother was very animal conscious,” he said. “She was a cat lady. I guess I got it from her.”
Hudson’s calling to be a vet came during his undergraduate years at West Virginia University, when he took a course in animal physiology. He did his postgraduate work at the University of Georgia.
“This is what I wanted to do,” he recalled. “I don’t know if I’m ever going to be a vet again, but I’d love to teach a physiology course.”
Hudson never wanted anything more than to be a veterinary general practitioner.
“I used to do surgery when I was well,” he said. “But when there is someone down the road that can do it better, you’re going to offer it to your client. I’m a GP. I’m a gatekeeper now. If I can’t get things to work, we have specialists. I always wanted to be your local vet, where you know your clients, you know your people. I loved being a GP.”
Conway remembers many times when Hudson brushed off or postponed payments because a client didn’t have enough money for treatment.
More than 1,500 people showed up at a Sept. 26 fund-raiser for the family at Windward Beach to help the vet that had helped them so many times, Conway said.
Conway had ordered 1,500 wristbands for the hastily organized event. She ran out.
“I was just floored by it,” she said. “We were giving out blank bands. It was just amazing. I’ve never seen a turnout like this.”
“He has a lot of support in this town,” said the township recreation department’s Daniel Santaniello. “Sept. 26 was almost like a Founders’ Day. It was something special, a lot of people there. It was a good thing for Brick to show how close Brick Township is and a good thing for him to see how everyone appreciates what he did for this community.”
Eager to work
“I want to go back to work,” Hudson said. “Whether my body will cooperate, I don’t know. I miss work. I miss my staff, my pooches and kitty cats.”
“I believe in miracles,” Conway said. “We want him back. Everybody loves him. That’s the bottom line. If we could work for free, we’d still do it for him.”
The Hudsons have medical insurance, but the price of his medications is astronomical and not completely covered. One shot of Avastin is $10,000. Hudson’s staff has arranged a series of events to raise money to offset the cost of the drugs. Applebee’s in Brick Plaza will donate 10 percent of revenues on Jan. 27 for Hudson’s medical costs.
Anyone who wants to donate can also make out a check to “Friends of Eric Hudson” and mail it to Cedars Veterinary Hospital, 120 Drum Point Road, Brick, NJ 08723.