Barbaro receives new foot brace after `significant setback'

Horse racing

January 29, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro continued to fight hard for his life yesterday, but the news coming from the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., continued to be alarming.

Yesterday, Barbaro's surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, confirmed reports Barbaro had undergone a major procedure Saturday because of the development of a "deep subsolar abscess secondary to bruising" in his right hind leg.

The new ailment is not laminitis, but Richardson said in a statement: "The undermining of the sole and part of the lateral heel region are potentially just as serious. ... This is another significant setback and exemplifies how complex his medical situation remains, because both hind limbs have major problems."

Richardson was concerned enough to tell Associated Press yesterday that if the bone were to break again, "I think we'll quit."

Gretchen Jackson, co-owner of Barbaro with her husband, Roy, told The Sun: "You can't say Dean hasn't told us from the beginning about all the things that could go wrong - but it is horrible."

In his statement, Richardson said it was impossible to have access to Barbaro's right rear foot for treatment as well as to provide him with acceptable stability and comfort in a cast. Because of that, Richardson and the New Bolton staff put his leg in a brace - "an external skeletal fixation device in order to provide the foot a chance to heal."

The device, which is made by placing two steel pins through his right hind cannon bone and then connecting them to bars on each side of his leg, which in turn are connected to a lightweight foot plate, comes with a major risk.

Though the brace eliminates all weight bearing from the foot, it might add stress to his cannon bone, possibly causing a new fracture to one of the bones shattered when Barbaro broke down in the May 20 Preakness.

"We believed it was our only option given the worsening of the right hind foot problem," Richardson said. "Unfortunately, we felt we needed to take this risk because this approach offered our only hope of keeping Barbaro acceptably comfortable."

But Richardson told the Associated Press: "When things start to go bad, it's like a house of cards. If one thing fails, that puts more stress on another part. And if that fails, then you're stuck with managing two problems. That's why these are difficult cases."

Still, he added Barbaro has been in and out of his sling since his latest surgery and his left hind foot appears stable "at this time." But it is complicated, and the New Bolton staff is also worried about Barbaro's two front feet, which are under more stress because of the problems with both back legs.

Keeping Barbaro comfortable has been the goal since he broke his right hind leg in the Preakness. After four months of slow but steady progress after he developed the laminitis infection in his left hind hoof in July, things started going wrong five days after a cast was applied to straighten his coffin bone Jan. 3.

Since then, he has had four procedures that have included removing and replacing casts and braces to his left and right rear legs, twice having sections of his hoof wall removed on his left foot, having an abscess on his right foot drained and finally Saturday's procedure.

"You wish it wasn't happening," Gretchen Jackson said. "But it is."

Jackson said Barbaro's initial injury has resulted in changes in his right leg and in the way he walks on it.

"I guess it has to be an issue," she said. "He has to learn to live with his new leg, and they're trying to help him live with it. But it has created problems. Horses are horses and things happen."

Jackson again said the most important thing is for Barbaro to be pain-free.

"As long as that is the case, we'll go forward," she said. "I visited him twice [yesterday] with a friend, and his eyes were bright and he is still trying to bite you. He's still interested in life.

"They're taking good care of him, and we are staying positive. That's really all you can do."

Richardson said Barbaro "remarkably" continues to have an "excellent attitude and appetite."

Which is more than Richardson can say for himself.

"I'm upset, worried, not sleeping well," he told the Associated Press. "A lot of people are very, very committed and spent a huge amount of emotional sources on this horse. So it's very upsetting when things go badly."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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