Medical advances kept champ alive

Pa. animal hospital called one of finest


KENNETT SQUARE, PA. -- Ten years ago, Barbaro would not have left Pimlico Race Course alive.

Many feared that the Kentucky Derby winner would die at Pimlico when a tarpaulin was brought onto the track after he suffered three catastrophic fractures and dislocated a joint in his right hind leg seconds out of the starting gate in the Preakness Stakes.

But Barbaro was rushed to the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at New Bolton Center. Housed on a former farm property, it is the closest major veterinary hospital to Baltimore and to home for the horse, trainer Michael Matz and the owners. It's also one of the finest in the nation, Matz said.

According to its Web site, the teaching hospital's biomedical students have achieved major breakthroughs in development of botulinum antitoxin, in vitro fertilization in cows, and outside-the-digestive-tract nutrition for foals and calves. It treats more than 6,000 animals every year, and another 19,000 through its field service.

Its doctors handle leg fractures on a weekly basis, but Dr. Dean Richardson, chief of surgery, said he had never worked with a fracture quite as severe as Barbaro's.

Created by the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine in 1954, the hospital and research center are set on 650 acres of farmland in Chester County, 70 miles northeast of Baltimore.

Also called the New Bolton Center, the hospital is staffed by more than 90 clinicians, residents and interns who are supported by about 50 veterinary nurses and assistants.

The complex has almost 150 stalls and four wards that include an intensive care unit, neonatal section, orthopedic and rehab center, infectious disease facilities and a clinical lab.

It has a pool with a floating raft where horses can awaken from anesthesia, a treadmill and a suite of labs for radiology and pharmacology. The hospital routinely uses ultrasound to examine tendons, organs and fetuses.

The technology for treating injured horses has advanced markedly in recent years, veterinarians said. That much was evident yesterday as hospital administrators demonstrated the giant treadmill used to test racehorses with a case of "the slows," or for cardiology and pulmonary research.

To simulate wind, fans blew lightly on Tremendous Machine, a 4-year-old former racehorse. He warmed up to a trot, then a steady gallop, reaching almost 30 mph. A sports physiologist observing him said he could run up to 45 mph, as fast as the famous Secretariat, although he couldn't sustain that pace.

Many in and around the hospital found it fitting that Barbaro is being treated just 20 miles from his stable in Fair Hill Training Center and seven miles from the homes of his owners and trainer.

The nearby towns are dominated by fields, and some are populated by almost as many horses as people. And Barbaro has become a beloved figure here.

"We wish this had never been necessary in the first place, but since it happened, we're glad it's here," said Dr. Corinne Sweeney, associate dean for the New Bolton Center. "We have the expertise and the facilities to be able to be of assistance."

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