Where horror movie plots begin: The story of a parasitologist

Sue Prouty with heart infected by heartworm
BACKGROUND
Susanne (Sue) Prouty grew up in the town of Lino Lakes, Minnesota where her great-grandparents settled in the 1860s. Wanting to maintain those roots for her own family tree, Lino Lakes remains her hometown today.
 
Sue was enrolled in the pre-veterinary program at University of Minnesota-Morris, but after giving seminars on heartworm and intestinal parasites in dogs during her senior year, she became fascinated by parasites. Not long after graduation, she searched for a job here at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, which was closer to her beloved Lino Lakes. Fortunately, parasitology Professor Bert Stromberg in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (predecessor of VBS) was seeking a researcher to work in his lab. Sue learned a lot about parasitology during her early career at the CVM, but after the funding ran out to keep her current position active, she first worked in an endocrinology lab in the Department of Animal Science (CFANS), then studied human Entamoeba histolytica infections in the Medical School. As fate would have it, Dr. Stromberg asked Sue if she would consider coming back to VBS in a more permanent position, and the rest was history. Sue has been at the University for 38 years and is the primary parasitology diagnostician in VBS, and also serves as the parasitology section manager for the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.
 
Sue Prouty with kidney wormGETTING HER HANDS DIRTY
In addition to identifying a wide variety of parasites in fecal samples or on the body surfaces of animals, Sue performs heartworm testing for pet dogs and cats.  In the sophomore veterinary course CVM 6925 (Vet Diagnostic Laboratory), Sue teaches students basic parasitology diagnostic skills, so they are able to identify various types of parasites.
 
Roundworms, tapeworms, flukes and protozoans like Giardia are the most common parasites living within animals that are found through routine fecal diagnostic testing.  Lice, mites, and ticks infest animal skin and other body surfaces. Most of her samples come from the Veterinary Diagnostic lab or are sent to her from across the state, the nation, and occasionally other countries, as well as samples which need a higher level of testing from the Veterinary Medical Center. Sue’s motto is, “If it poops, I look at it.”
 
MOST INTERESTING CASE
Sue notes that although all parasite testing is important, she has a couple cases that stick out. The first being a case that involved testing of a fecal sample thought to be from a raccoon. Because a young child had ingested some of it while playing and was showing signs of a related medical condition, his pediatrician sent the fecal sample to Sue to examine and she determined that the poop did indeed have a parasite which was transmissible to humans. Sue points out that her lab is not allowed by law to run human samples, but because the fecal sample in question was of animal and not human origin, she was able to examine it and identify the parasite. This allowed the doctor to properly diagnose and treat the child.
 
The second case was from a pig. A family fell ill after they ate the meat from a pig that they shot on a game farm. After testing the pig tissue, Sue confirmed the presence of Trichinella spiralis larvae, a roundworm found in some undercooked pork.
 
INSPIRATIONS
When asked who most inspires her, Sue quickly identified Professor Stromberg, who is retired and currently a VBS Emeritus Professor. During his career in Minnesota, Dr. Stromberg served as an interim department Chair and Associate Dean of Research in the CVM. As an administrator, he treated people with grace and respect, always trying to keep the best interests of his department and the units he represented at the forefront of his actions, even if that meant making hard decisions. He was an excellent leader and team player, and Sue admires him not only as a mentor, but as a friend. Sue stated that she was lucky to have him as a boss for most of her career here at the University. She feels doubly blessed to be working with Dr. Stromberg’s replacement, VBS Assistant Professor Erin Burton, who she describes as very talented and resourceful.
 
WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW
Sue, who has a stomach of steel to work on creepy crawly parasites and deal with “unique odors” on a daily basis, also enjoys knitting. She is particularly gifted in the art of knitting Celtic cable knots.
 
True to her roots and of bringing strands together, Sue researches her family’s genealogy and Irish heritage, which goes hand in hand with her love for the country of Ireland. She has visited the Emerald Isle twice in the past three years and has plans to visit again soon.
 
(Pictured top is Sue Prouty with a heart infected by heartworm and bottom photo is Sue holding a 3 foot long kidney worm)