Derby winner Barbaro begins road to recovery after extensive surgery
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. -- Barbaro was on his feet Monday in his 12-by-12 stall, and that's where he'll be for the next few days, the next few weeks and probably the next few months.
With a fiberglass cast on his right hind leg and a staff of veterinarians keeping a 24-hour watch, standing around is the best thing -- the only thing -- the stricken Kentucky Derby winner can do.
A day after surgeons spent more than five hours pinning together the leg bones he shattered in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, the 3-year-old was adjusting to his new life as a rehab patient.
"He got through the night very well, day one and into day two is going as well as expected," said Dr. Corinne Sweeney, executive hospital director at the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center. "He is standing on the leg, and with the appropriate amount of weight on it."
Barbaro also showed interest in a few mares nearby.
Despite the good initial reports, doctors have cautiously given Barbaro a 50-50 chance for survival.
"He's doing all the things a horse should do, including eating and nickering at the mares near him," Dr. Dean Richardson, who performed the five-plus hour surgery with a team of assistants, said. "While we are optimistic, we remain cautious about his prognosis and are watching for signs of infection at the surgical site, laminitis and other possible aftereffects of the surgery."
Laminitis is an often-fatal disease sometimes brought on by uneven weight balance.
Barbaro's daily regiment now consists of trying to stand comfortably and keeping his weight evenly distributed.
Barbaro will spend his long recovery in the intensive care unit of this 650-acre center in the heart of Pennsylvania horse country.
So far, his appetite has been fine and his vital signs are good, Sweeney said.
Barbaro was the odds-on favorite to win the Preakness and set up a Triple Crown try in the Belmont Stakes. But a few hundred yards out of the starting gate, he took a bad step, his leg flared out grotesquely and he veered sideways before jockey Edgar Prado pulled the powerful colt to a halt.
Later that night he was vanned to New Bolton and surgery lasted most of the afternoon on Sunday.
"He looked pretty bright; I guess you can't ask for anything more," said trainer Michael Matz, who guided Barbaro to an undefeated record before the Preakness.
"I'm hoping for the best, I'm very optimistic. It's going to be a long time and we just have to take it day by day and keep our fingers crossed."
As Barbaro embarks on the risky path to recovery, there are two immediate concerns: infection and preventing laminitis. The colt has been receiving antibiotics and pain medication, and is able to move around -- or even lay down -- in his stall if he chooses.
"For this to be successful, the horse has to be able to stand during the healing stage," Sweeney said. "Lying down also would be advantageous to healing."
Barbaro sustained a broken cannon bone above the ankle, a broken sesamoid bone behind the ankle and a broken long pastern bone below the ankle. The fetlock joint -- the ankle -- was dislocated.
Richardson, who performed the five-plus hour surgery with a team of assistants, said the pastern bone was shattered in "20-plus pieces."
The bones were put in place to fuse the joint by inserting a plate and 23 screws to repair damage so severe that most horses wouldn't have survived it.
Horses are often euthanized after serious leg injuries because circulation problems and deadly diseases can arise if they are unable to distribute weight on all fours. Also, money is a factor.
For extensive surgery and recovery, it could cost "tens of thousands of dollars," Richardson said. Many owners choose against trying to save a horse with a serious injury.
But in Barbaro's case, well-to-do owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson are hoping for a full recovery.
"They are optimistic that if this is a successful healing he will be a successful stallion," Sweeney said.
Barbaro's sire, Dynaformer, commands a $100,000 stud fee.
Matz was encouraged after his visit, but was left wondering what might have been had his horse won the Preakness.
"It would have been great if he could have won the Triple Crown," Matz said. "He tried. He won the Derby, he got hurt.
"We've had horses that broke down before. It's something that happens. Sometimes you can't save them and sometimes you can. Hopefully, this will be one of the times we can save him."
Inside the center, apples, carrots, peppermints and flowers continued arriving for Barbaro. On a white sheet of paper next two dozen roses was a note: "Thank you for doing all you can to save Barbaro. America is so thankful."
It was signed, Silvia, Miami F.