At hospital, all treatment special

New Bolton Center is known for great care

`every horse we get is very important'

May 25, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. -- The New Bolton Center is not a place just for famous, big horses such as Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who is recovering from a life-threatening injury, but also a place for a variety of less-famous animals and even smaller horses who are just as beloved in their domains.

When Lisa Pattisall pulled up at the entrance to the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals with her husband, Adam, in the back seat, gently cradling a just-born, 20-pound miniature horse named Finley in his lap, she didn't expect to be greeted as if she'd just arrived at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"It was like a scene from ER," she said. "We were met by a lady in scrubs, and she took over. They put him on a gurney, and he was surrounded by 12 nurses and doctors. They towered over him and put tubes down his throat and took blood. These people were so on top of him that in 20 minutes they knew what was wrong and they thought he had a chance."

The attending physician, Dr. Jon Palmer, sent Lisa Pattisall back to her home in Bel Air to get Finley's mother, Summer, so the baby could nurse, and the placenta (which Lisa had saved), so they could find out about Finley's infection.

"He was fairly badly off when he got here," said Palmer, a neonatologist who has been at the hospital for about 27 years. "He had a muscular skeletal problem with his legs ... which made it impossible for him to nurse, and he had an infection and a couple other issues. If he hadn't gotten here when he did, he would have died."

So Finley spent nearly two weeks in the New Bolton Center, in the same area where Barbaro is trying to beat the odds of recovery on his broken right rear leg, which he suffered near the start of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.

"Finley received his care in the patient area where Barbaro is now," Palmer said of the intensive care and neonatal care areas, which share a huge, common recovery area linking the two. "And the care for both animals was and is the same. Except for some extra visitors, it's not been any different. We feel many of our patients are special. Every horse we get is very important in someone's life. Barbaro is no different."

But again yesterday, most questions being asked by outsiders in the hospital were about Barbaro.

His surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, said: "Barbaro is doing very well, and his condition today is excellent."

And Dr. Corinne Sweeney, the hospital's executive director, said that when she stopped by his stall early yesterday morning, he was lying down, sleeping comfortably.

When owner Gretchen Jackson and her neighbor and friend Katie Walker went to see him, Barbaro was up and ready for company.

"I was in the stall with him, and he was acting like a normal horse. He took the carrot we gave him and didn't just eat it, but literally played with it, and then he nuzzled me," said Walker, patting her midsection to indicate the nuzzling spot.

As Jackson and Walker stood talking, they were in the hospital lobby that is filled with bouquets of long-stemmed red and pink roses, a basket of African violets and a vase of a delicate homegrown variety of rose, which had obviously been cut personally in someone's yard.

Jackson looked at all the gifts sent to comfort Barbaro and his human family and shook her head in amazement.

"We're trying to respond," she said. "It's going to take time. It really is overwhelming. It can't be done in a week or a month. There are thousands and thousands of messages. ... Maybe I'll have to write a public letter to let everyone know how much we appreciate their thoughtfulness."

Almost everyone who brings an animal to the Bolton Center has to wait for the outcome to become apparent. But while the animal is here, it is assured of comprehensive care. Adam Pattisall has been so impressed, he called Finley's doctor, "God's hands on earth."

And while the media have descended on the facility, filling its lobby, hallways and conference room - a room normally used for seminars - the doctoring has gone on uninterrupted behind the scenes.

Yesterday, Pattisall brought Finley back to have the orthopedic shoes he was wearing checked. "I call them Forrest Gump shoes," he said, smiling. Later, he learned Finley no longer needed his special shoes, and by evening he was home in Bel Air, enjoying a romp in his own pasture.

The cost of Finley's care, Pattisall said, is still unknown.

"I haven't seen a bill," he said. "I'd love to know. We did ask about the cost. It's obviously going to be a big dent in our finances. We were told the stay would be about $3,000 or $4,000, but they were drawing blood three and four times a day. I can't imagine what it would be for what Barbaro is going through."

Richardson said this week Barbaro's bill would be "many tens of thousands of dollars, but not as much as it would be if you [a human] had a much more minor procedure [at a top hospital]."

Every year, the Pattisalls watch the Preakness, but this year was different. This year, they were involved in Finley's recovery.

"So we didn't watch," Adam Pattisall said. "But we heard about Barbaro. And, well, you don't like to hear about that happening. But when I heard he was coming here to New Bolton, I said, `It's a non-issue.' They can fix anything here. And I'd bet every dollar I'm going to make in the next year that he's going to be fine."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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