Known as the bionic vet, Noel Fitzpatrick has invented countless operations to help heal sick animals and is breaking new boundaries in medical and veterinary science. What makes this Super Vet tick? We unveil the little known facts!
Deep in the heart of the Surrey countryside lies an extraordinary vet’s practice. Here, the hardest to treat pets from across Britain are given some of the most advanced procedures available anywhere in the country. The practice is the brainchild of one man, Noel Fitzpatrick.
As well as his multi-million-pound neurosurgery and orthopedic centre, Noel is also director of Fitzbionics, a company created to conceive, design, develop, manufacture, test and implement new implants. With his team of dedicated researchers and bio-engineers, Noel helps create custom implants for pets in need of a medical solution that doesn’t yet exist elsewhere.
1. He’s a pioneer
From the Collie who had the world’s first ankle implant, to Oscar the cat that received cutting edge amputation prosthesis after an accident with a combine harvester, Noel and his team have treated thousands of pets in surprising and groundbreaking ways. As well as pioneering limb and paw replacements for dogs and cats, he also gives them new hips, new knees and he fixes their spines so they can walk again.
“It’s always challenging when you go into theatre to try and create a new procedure to solve a problem, but that’s what you’ve got to do,” he says. “In exceptional circumstances you’ve got to create an exceptional solution. This is not in any textbook.”
2. His practice is like the Ritz for pets
When Fitzpatrick Referrals was founded in 2005, Noel’s vision was to create an environment where he could combine compassionate care with excellence in veterinary medicine.
Noel hates cages, so the dogs and cats that come to his practice are behind glass doors. They also get airbeds, blankets, TV and radio.
Treatment wise, there is an MRI scanner, a CT scanner, a hydro hydrotherapy pool, an underwater treadmill, three operating theatres and an isolation ward.
3. He also loves to treat wild animals
“I’ll treat any wild animal,” he says. “Hedgehogs are my favourite.”
4. He would like to see human and animal medical advances unite
“What I’ve done with these guys is the future for humans,” says Noel. “Currently, there’s no two-way street between human and animal medicine – but there needs to be.”
Noel adds that for him to agree to do a treatment or surgery, it has to be the right thing morally and ethically and, most importantly, it needs to be in the best interests of the animal. “For me it’s all about helping the animals and giving them a fair deal,” he says.
In 2009, Noel was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Surrey for pioneering the concept of 'One Medicine', the fusion of technologies advancing veterinary and human medicine in tandem. “What’s happening here right now could revolutionise the lives of thousands of animals and thousands of humans. And really I would die happy if I could just make a tiny bit of that happen.”
5. He was an actor before he was a vet
What his fans might not know about Noel is that before he became a vet he was an actor who had small parts in UK drama Casualty and Heartbeat. “I was crap though,” he says.
6. He sleeps at the surgery
“This place is my life. I eat here, I sleep in a room next to the animals and my team is my family.
7. He is single!
Noel admits he’s married to his work, and that it would take a very special someone to understand the hours he works and his commitment to the job. “It’s an elusive mix of physical and mental because I’m really emotional. I’m not an oil painting and I’m a workaholic freak," he says.
8. He is looking to settle down
“I still believe in love and I still believe it will happen for me, I really do. I would like to have a companion who I could share things with, who is OK with me being who I am. I do want to get married, maybe have a child. But she will have to understand she will never come first,” he says, referring to his veterinary practice.
9. But he prefers animals to humans
“That’s because – one, they can’t hurt me; two, I could never hurt them; three, they’re going to love me no matter what; and four, the moral commitment of my life is to look after them.”
10. He fancies Keira Knightley
While he says he can’t forgive Keira Knightley for marrying someone else, he has an adopted Border Terrier he’s named after her.
11. He can tell whether a couple’s marriage will last
“I’m right 98 per cent of the time,” he told The Mirror. “There’s nearly always one who loves the pet deeply and one who’s there because they have to be. If they’re equally emotionally invested in the pet they’re likely to stay together. If not, they won’t.”
12. He does turn down some clients
“Some people are really aggressive and I’m, like, “No, I’m not doing surgery on your 14-year-old dog that has renal failure,” he told The Daily Mail.
13. He rarely takes holidays
Since setting up Fitzpatrick’s Referrals 12 years ago, Noel has racked up over 30,000 hours in the operating theatre, and didn’t take a holiday for 14 years.
14. He draws inspiration from buildings, comic books and kids toys
“I don’t see life in an animal as any different to life in a human and I don’t see the surgery I do as any different to everything around me,” he says. “So I take inspiration from literally everything. I’ll be looking at a building or I’ll be looking at a movie or I’ll be looking at a tree, and all of a sudden ‘oh yeah, that’s the answer to that surgical problem’. There’s very little new in nature, it’s just whether we see it.”
“I love Meccano, I was deprived of a Meccano set as a kid and I think that’s why I ended up being an orthopedic surgeon. “
15. He’s not a vegetarian!
Many people expect Noel to be a vegetarian, but as he explains, life and death was everywhere on the farm he grew up on. “My farm wouldn’t have existed without meat, so I wouldn’t exist because my dad wouldn’t have had me. I’m a vet and I have a moral responsibility to do the best I can for the animals that are around. I can’t say ban all meat, it’s not going to happen, so we need to be realistic.”
16. He was bullied as a kid
“I’ve never talked about this but I want to now because I want kids to know something good can come out of a bad situation,” he told The Mirror. “I had the sh*t kicked out of me every day at school because at 11 I could barely read and write but the minute I was introduced to biology (at high school) I knew with certainty what I was here for.’”
"My only friends were dogs. I don’t look back with regret because it fuelled what I am today. But I do resent the school system which didn’t protect kids from bullying.”
17. He gets two thanks for every 20 complaints
“Over this weekend I had two complaints,” he told The Daily Mail. “We had done our best for the animals but these people want to take legal action. People think because we’re on telly everything works out, but it doesn’t always: both of these animals had to be put to sleep. For every 20 complaints you get two thanks. Some people come and they expect you to work a miracle. But most people come full of hope,” says Noel.
18. He does it for the love, not the money
“What we’re doing here is so incredibly special. The other night I was asking myself, why am I doing this so late? I’m so tired, and my back is killing me. And I’m only alive for so long. Why do we do it? This is why we do it. If he hadn’t lived, I would have been very sad. Because him living helps me. It really does."
“Fitzpatrick Referrals has a multimillion-pound overdraft,’ he says. “Every single time I make some money I ask for more because progress is essential. If I die in debt it means I’ve lived a life worth living. Who wants to die in profit? You can’t take any of it with you!”
“Animals have always helped me more than I’ve ever helped them,” he says. “As long as there’s another dog or a cat to fix, I’ll be around to do it.”
Be watching The Super Vet on the LifeStyle Channel, Saturdays at 6.30pm.