Barbaro progress pleases surgeon

Horse's broken leg healing well

life still in jeopardy

August 25, 2006|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

Barbaro surgeon `thrilled' with progress since July Dr. Dean Richardson continues to stress that Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro has a long, long race to run before he reaches the finish line, but yesterday the surgeon allowed some joy to enter his voice.

"His progress since early July when he floundered so badly, well, there is no doubt I'm happy. I'm thrilled with how well he has progressed," Richardson said in a phone interview with The Sun.

Richardson, chief of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., has spent every day with the thoroughbred since he shattered his right rear leg in the May 20 Preakness.

The broken leg has healed well, but Barbaro's life remains in jeopardy because of the complication of a severe case of laminitis in his left rear foot, which required removing 80 percent of his left hoof wall.

Once the laminitis appeared, doctors estimated it could take up to six months before they would know whether Barbaro could regrow enough hoof for him to stand on. The horse has to be able to bear weight on all four feet to survive.

Yesterday, Richardson extended the time period.

"It could be six months or a year," he said. "We're in no hurry. As long as he's happy, there is no huge rush, and it could be up to a year - or with setbacks, it could be longer.

"It's very different horse to horse, and we're not going to know until we give it time. No one is setting an arbitrary growth rate. We're just letting him heal as fast or as slow as he can."

Asked about the prospect of a prosthetic hoof, Richardson said there is no such thing that would work for Barbaro.

"Sometimes hooves are rebuilt," he said. "But to do that, there has to be a partial hoof wall there. There has to be something to build on. In his case, 80 percent of the hoof wall was removed, and what people don't understand is that that means all that remains is soft tissue covering a bone."

Richardson said Barbaro's hoof has grown about 1 centimeter since the hoof wall was removed in early July and his broken right leg has healed well enough that without the left-foot laminitis, he would be out of the cast.

"But his right leg isn't healed to where I feel absolutely comfortable having him out of the cast, because he needs to protect his left foot," Richardson said. "Normally, he'd use the left hoof to protect his right. But in this case, he has to use the right to protect the left. So, we're giving him more time in the cast to manage him safely."

Richardson said the left foot bandage will continue to be changed daily, and he plans to keep the current cast on the right leg for the next couple of weeks because the horse appears to be comfortable. But he said that could change any day the horse appears uncomfortable.

Barbaro's pain medication has been cut back to what amounts to about "a couple aspirin a day" in human terms, and he continues to be able to go outside daily for about a half-hour of controlled grazing.

Since being allowed out for the first time two weeks ago, Barbaro has put on a little weight and has mentally brightened.

"I don't want people to think that it is because he's going outside that he has been doing better," Richardson said. "It's because he was doing better that he has been allowed to go outside.

"He had reached a point where it was easy for him to walk around. He's gaining weight, happy and walking on both feet. But his mental attitude is better, which you'd expect, and his strength is a little better because he's getting some exercise - just like a human patient would improve by being able to get out of a hospital bed and walk around."

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