Neurology Faculty Veterinarians
Joan R. Coates, DVM, MS, DACVM–Neurology
Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery
Director of the Comparative Neurology Program
Board-certified Specialist in Neurology
Joan Coates specializes in neurology and neurosurgery and is Section Head of the Neurology & Neurosurgery Section/Service.
As a researcher, Coates is a member of the Comparative Neurology Program, which explores inherited developmental and degenerative diseases of the nervous system, and is involved with translational research for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Her research focus involves the study of canine degenerative myelopathy as a disease model for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease).
In addition, Coates co-directs the Neurology & Neurosurgery Service, and is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
Coates received a bachelor’s degree and a doctor of veterinary medicine from the University of Missouri. She completed a small animal rotating internship at Texas A&M University and a three-year residency in neurology and neurosurgery at Auburn University. She also received a master of science degree in neuroscience from Auburn University.
When she’s not working, Coates enjoys spending time with her family and their four dogs, one cat, two miniature Sicilian donkeys and two quarter horses. Her hobbies include long-distance cycling, hiking and trekking and playing flute.
Ji-Hey Lim, DVM, PhD
Clinical Instructor, Neurology and Neurosurgery
Ji-Hey Lim specializes in neurology and neurosurgery with a special interest in traumatic spinal cord injury and translational medicine.
Lim received a doctor of veterinary medicine from Seoul National University, College of Veterinary Medicine in South Korea. Following graduation, she completed a three years of training in orthopedic surgery and earned a PhD at Seoul National University. Her research focused on a spinal cord injury model and treatment using allogenic stem cells in dogs. To expand bench-top work to the clinical side, Lim joined a spinal cord injury program at North Carolina State University. There she conducted extensive research to improve the treatment of spinal cord injuries in dogs through the development of novel therapeutics, evaluation tools and biomarkers for the prediction of outcomes. Lim left North Carolina and went on to complete a residency in neurology and neurosurgery at the University of Florida.
When she is not working, she enjoys outdoor activities including hiking, swimming, snowboarding and golf. She also loves to watch movies and spend time with her husband.
Dennis O’Brien, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVIM
Adjunct Professor Emeritus
Chancellor’s Chair of Excellence in Comparative Neurology
Board-Certified Specialist in Neurology
Dennis O’Brien specializes in medical neurology with a special interest in hereditary diseases, movement disorders and epilepsy.
O’Brien received his doctor of veterinary medicine from the University of Illinois. After three years in general practice, he returned to the University of Illinois to complete a residency in neurology and a PhD in neuroscience.
A diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, O’Brien received the organization’s Kirk Award for Professional Excellence in 2011.
When he’s not working, O’Brien enjoys hiking, cycling, prairie restoration, and photography. His family shares their home with two cats, three draft horses, and two dogs with cerebellar ataxia and one with diabetes.
Elizabeth Curtis, DVM
Elizabeth Curtis is a veterinary neurology and neurosurgery resident who works with patients with neurological diseases under the supervision of board-certified neurologists and participates in research.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Curtis received a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan while playing division I field hockey. She received her DVM from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She completed a small animal medicine & surgery rotating internship at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.
When she’s not working, she enjoys all sports, running, exploring new restaurants, and spending time with her husband, family, and two small dogs Rex and Ducky.
Joe Kowal, DVM
Joe Kowal is a veterinary neurology and neurosurgery resident who, under the supervision of board-certified neurologists, works with patients with neurological diseases, and he participates in research.
Kowal is from Indianapolis, Indiana, and received his bachelor’s degree and DVM from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He completed a small animal rotating internship and a neurology research specialty internship at the University of Missouri.
In his free time, Kowal enjoys backpacking, fly fishing, biking, and kayaking. He also enjoys spending time with his dog, Bruce, and cat, Curry.
Alexa Stephen, DVM
Alexa Stephen is a veterinary neurology and neurosurgery resident who works with patients with neurological diseases and participates in research under the supervision of board-certified neurologists.
Dr. Stephen received her bachelor’s degree and DVM from the University of Florida. She then completed a small animal rotating internship at the University of Georgia.
When not working, she enjoys hiking, camping, ballroom dancing, and spending time with her dog Shae.
Natalie Villani, MS, DVM
Natalie Villani is a veterinary neurology and neurosurgery resident who works with patients with neurological diseases under the supervision of board-certified neurologists. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Veterinary Pathobiology, researching canine inherited diseases.
She is originally from Pittsburgh, PA and received bachelor’s degrees from Youngstown State University (Ohio) and the University of Central Florida. She went on to complete a MS and DVM, both from the University of California at Davis. She then pursued a rotating internship in small animal medicine/surgery in New York and a neurology and neurosurgery specialty internship in Los Angeles.
When she is not working, she enjoys playing and refereeing ice hockey, playing video games, hiking, and training her Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Hachi, in a variety of dog performance sports such as agility, rally, and barn hunt.
Lesley Beck, RVT, BS
Lesley Beck is a Veterinary Technician in neurology/neurosurgery. She received her bachelor’s degree in Veterinary Medical Technology from Mississippi State University in 2018. When she is not working, she enjoys kayaking, gardening, and spending time with her Greyhound, Power. She is also taking classes to become proficient in American Sign Language.
Brianna Morris, RVT
Brianna is a Registered Veterinary Technician & joined the Neurology team in September 2019. She is originally from the Northwest Chicago suburbs, and moved to the Columbia area in 2012. She graduated from Joliet Junior College with an Associates in Applied Science degree in the field of Veterinary Medical Technology in 2012. When not working Brianna enjoys being in the company of family and friends and spending time with her cat, Louie.
Amanda was born in Germany, only being there for 3 short years she then came to Missouri. She moved often, always in Missouri though. She moved to Mid-Missouri in 2013 where she worked at an animal hospital in Jefferson City as a Veterinary Assistant for two and a half years before meeting her husband and moving to Columbia in 2016. She was hired on at the VHC in February of 2017, working part-time. She and her husband married July 2017. In December 2018 Amanda joined the Neurology team. She now lives just outside of Columbia, with her husband, their dog Rocky, and cat Bullwinkle. Since settling down she has decided to continue her education with eventual goals of becoming a registered veterinary technician.