Barbaro's survival depends mainly on horse's comfort


KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. -- As fans continued to show their great support for Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro's recovery with a multitude of gifts yesterday, the horse remained in stable condition, beating the odds one more day.

"His vital signs are good, and he had another quiet, restful night," Dr. Dean Richardson, chief of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, said in his daily update of Barbaro's condition. "We continue to manage his pain successfully, and he is alert."

Barbaro's survival continues to rest on his ability to be comfortable.

"If he starts acting like he doesn't want to stand on the leg, that's it," Richardson said last week after discovering a "catastrophic" case of laminitis in the horse's rear left foot, "because that will be when we call it quits."

To survive, Barbaro has to be able to stand on all four legs.

Last week, the 3-year-old survived when it appeared he was near the end of his battle to recover from a shattered rear right leg, broken May 20 in the Preakness Stakes. Over last week, Barbaro had four cast changes and two surgeries on his broken leg, including a major one to remove and replace much of the hardware originally inserted, and to have an infection cleaned out. Then he had another one on his left foot to clear the infection damage from the laminitis.

Afterward, he emerged with a long cast on his broken right leg and a short one on his left hoof and ankle for support. Both casts will be watched closely and be changed as doctors judge necessary.

Yesterday, Richardson continued to voice caution, saying: "It is important for people to understand that this is not a routine laminitis. The care involved in treating a hoof with this degree of compromise is complex."

Barbaro's left foot surgery included a hoof wall procedure that required the removal of 80 percent of his hoof. Thursday, Richardson said Barbaro's case of laminitis was "as bad a laminitis as you can have" with only 20 percent of the hoof still attached to his coffin bone.

Now, doctors are waiting to see if his hoof will regrow. It is a process that will take many months, if it occurs at all.

Other vets - not involved in Barbaro's treatment - give mixed answers about the horse's chances of survival.

Dr. John Sivick, in private practice at Laurel Park, said from the moment Barbaro broke his leg there were three bad things that could go wrong.

"He could rebreak the bone, the bone could become infected and he could [develop laminitis]," Sivick said. "Two of those worst three things that could happen to him have. The odds are against him. I'd say his chances are poor. Not good. Not average. Not moderate. Poor. ... Laminitis is one of the most painful things any animal can have."

But Dr. Tom Bowman, past president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and a renowned reproductive vet, said though laminitis is always severe "and there is no way to project if improvement will occur," Richardson is attacking it aggressively and the public should accept the surgeon's day-to-day reports as truthful.

"For most horses, it would spell the end because most people wouldn't be able to gather the resources [human, medical and mechanical] that they have to work with at New Bolton," Bowman said. "I know it seems strange when reports go from guarded to improved the next day, but with laminitis the situation can deteriorate, improve or stabilize drastically in a few hours.

"And I think Dean Richardson has been magnificent just keeping that horse alive. It would be magnificent if it was an operation done on a person who could communicate, let alone on a horse."

Even Richardson said making this effort with Barbaro is "not typical," but added that the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals "does have options in terms of pain management that aren't present everywhere."

One of those is the sling that is designed to support Barbaro's body for several hours a day and enables him to "sit," lean back and take the weight off his back legs.

"The other day we spent three hours ... training him to adapt to a sling," Richardson said. "So he spends part of the day in a sling, which he is very good at, so that we can unweight him for several hours a day. And he seems to like that."

And, at night, so far, Barbaro has been willing to lie down and sleep, which everyone involved said is a very good thing.

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