Barbaro faces `tough times'

Temperature normal, but new cast applied for the sixth time

Horse Racing


Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was on his feet and eating hungrily yesterday after veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center put a new cast on his broken right hind leg for a sixth time.

Veterinarians said the horse's temperature had returned to normal after he developed an infection over the weekend.

But the thoroughbred's doctors continue to manage a perilous race between knitting bones and damaging infection as their patient rallies to repair injuries suffered May 20 during the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. The breakdown, just seconds after the starting gates opened, ended Barbaro's bid for the 2006 Triple Crown.

Getting well is a race Barbaro can win, but it may take many months, according to Dr. Nathaniel A. White, director of the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., a part of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

"I remember cases ... of horses in the hospital six to eight months, and it took that long to get them to heal," White said.

Barbaro's doctors gave him a 50-50 chance of survival after his first surgery to repair the breaks. But with a problematic infection, White said, "the chances for survival are going to be less."

A haggard Dr. Dean Richardson, chief of surgery at the New Bolton Center, sounded the most cautious note yesterday, telling the Associated Press: "I think we're in for tough times right now. I think we're going to have some tough days ahead. I'm being realistic about it. When a horse has a setback like this, it's a problem."

Richardson reported Sunday that Barbaro had begun to show signs of pain and a fever, evidence he was fighting an infection.

Doctors took 15 hours Saturday to clean out the infection, replace the original plate and many of the screws installed after the injury to stabilize the fractured leg. They also replaced the cast with a longer one, for additional support.

Yesterday, with Barbaro supported in a sling and quieted by mild sedation, the long cast was replaced with a short one - the fourth in a week.

"The long cast was used as extra support during the anesthetic recovery phase," Richardson said. "It is much easier for him to move around his stall and get up and down with a short cast."

Veterinarians also found and treated an abscess in Barbaro's left hind foot.

"We're continuing his pain medication, antibiotics and other supportive care," Richardson said. "He appears more comfortable today."

Peter Brette, an assistant trainer who visited Barbaro yesterday in the hospital's intensive care unit, said the 3-year-old bay colt is "much better than he was [Sunday]. He was eating hay, with all four feet on the ground.

"The fact that he has kept his appetite through the rough patches is one of [Barbaro's] saving graces," Brette said, adding that the horse was nibbling peppermints fed to him by trainer Michael Matz's children.

Barbaro "looks as good as we could hope for after what he has been through in the last week," he added.

But the thoroughbred isn't out of danger, he warned: "The next 48 hours are very important. When they start reducing the medications that he's on, then we'll know how he's doing."

At the equine center in Leesburg, White said the main concern in such cases is whether the bone is actually healing.

"Any evidence of healing is a good sign," he said. "It's a race between that bone healing, having the plate and screws hold up and keeping infection at bay."

Richardson said Sunday that Barbaro's main fracture was healing well, but the pastern joint above the hoof - which was shattered into more than 20 pieces - continues to be a concern. The joint, which doctors are attempting to fuse, was stabilized with "new implants and a fresh bone graft."

Often, such a traumatic break leaves portions of the bone and tissue without sufficient blood supply to grow back together, White said. Inadequate blood supply also hampers the immune system's ability to find and destroy any bacteria that entered the wound during surgery.

"Then you've gone ahead and taken a piece of metal and screws and put them into that environment," he said. Bacteria will attach to the metal parts, grow and destroy surrounding tissue and bone. That can loosen screws and diminish the support needed by the bone as it heals.

Veterinarians watch animals for signs of postoperative infection. They check for fever and look for evidence of pain, such as limping or favoring the injured leg. They may even be able to feel unusual heat through the cast or spot drainage that signals infection in the wound, White said.

Such contamination is quite common, he added. "You use antibiotics locally during the process to kill as many [bacteria] as you can so there is no infection, but it's not a perfect science." If the tissue is healthy and the number of invading bacteria is low, the animal will fight off the infection and recover.

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