Surgeon works on life after Barbaro

`Some [letters] are so eloquent ... they reopen wounds'

March 05, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

PHILADELPHIA -- It has been more than a month since Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro's fight against injuries suffered in the Preakness Stakes and ensuing complications ended in death Jan. 29 at the New Bolton Center, and life for his surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, has yet to return to normal.

Still, a question about how Richardson, who had spent every day with Barbaro for eight months, was feeling brought an incredulous laugh.

"I'm a grown man," Richardson said. "I'm supposed to be in control of my emotions."

But it seems he still isn't quite yet.

Many of the 350 who listened to Richardson speak about Barbaro on Thursday at a "Vet 2 Vet" session during the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Annual Conference, a continuing education gathering for veterinarians and veterinary technicians, said that Richardson had to compose himself several times during his talk.

"I wasn't going to go," said Deborah Cronin, an equine and small animal vet from Califon, N.J. "There are a lot of feelings on my part about Barbaro, and I wasn't sure I wanted to relive them. But my friends talked me into it, and I'm glad they did. It was a very heartfelt and warm speech. He spoke very well about the events leading up to the end. ... He cleared up a lot concerning why the end came so fast."

St. George Hunt, a Wayne, Pa., vet specializing in small animals, noted how emotional Richardson was during the presentation and how much Richardson and Barbaro had done for veterinary medicine.

"As a vet, he opened the world's eyes to how well-trained and skilled and impassioned we are," Hunt said. "We're all deeply indebted to him and Barbaro."

After his initial protest, Richardson allowed even the sympathetic letters he is continuing to receive cause him pain.

"Things aren't pre-Barbaro normal," he said. "There still are follow-up stories, and I've had at least 1,000 letters since he died. For a long time, they were coming at a rate of about 100 a day, every day, and those are the ones just addressed to me.

"If they're addressed to me, I read them. It's good. It's bad. Some are straightforward, but some are so eloquent and heartfelt, they reopen wounds."

Richardson has responded to some of the notes, but said to answer all of them would be impossible. "I am supposed to be doing surgery and teaching," he said.

In early February, he had a scheduled speaking engagement in Palm Beach, Fla., and said he found it difficult to talk about the horse who had become so special to him. He was hoping his speech at the Penn conference would be easier, as he included medical information to try expanding an understanding of Barbaro's case in the medical community.

"But it's not easy," he said.

He has not taken any extended time off since losing the horse to laminitis that eventually spread to all of the champion's feet, though Richardson did add four days to the Florida trip to play golf with friends.

Asked whether he has felt less stress during the past month, Richardson looked a little blank.

"Stress?" he said. "It goes right by me, I suppose. It hasn't been that long since we lost him. I wish he was alive. I'd take the stress in a heartbeat. But, I guess, on a day-to-day basis, there is less stress. But we do have other patients."

At the moment, Richardson is again treating a Kentucky Derby winner.

The 1998 champion Real Quiet, who had been standing at stud at Dr. William Solomon's Pin Oak Lane Farm in New Freedom, Pa., arrived at New Bolton Feb. 19, suffering from lameness. Since then, a nuclear scan identified a problem in his back feet, where his pulse was high and there was a lot of heat in both feet.

Richardson was able to get abscesses to pop out of each of Real Quiet's hind feet last week, and is to give the horse a bone scan on both hind legs today.

"I'm cautiously optimistic - until we get [the] scan results," said Mike Jester, syndicate manager for Real Quiet, who receives condition reports from Richardson. "He had been quite lame in both hind legs, but when I saw him Thursday, he was walking comfortably. Dean is very happy with his progress."

Jester said he could not say enough good things about Richardson and his dedication.

"None of us needs to lose another Kentucky Derby winner," he said. "None of us needs another heartbreaker."

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