The making of a miracle

Surgeons' collaboration buy Barbaro another lease on life
source-image
Jul 01, 2006

BALTIMORE — He was on the cusp of immortality when the country's premier Thoroughbred stumbled into a potentially fatal tragedy. Fans gasped and then cried as the undefeated Kentucky Derby winner suffered multiple fractures at the Preakness Stakes. But the veterinary miracle that was about to unfold became an epic of inspiration for racing enthusiasts around the world as fate, innovation and expertise converged to save the life of a horse that many hoped would win the Triple Crown.


Jockey Edgar Prado was considered "the first responder" with his ability to keep Barbaro "quiet" until veterinarians arrived.
"It turned from a possible dream come true to a nightmare," said Scott Palmer, VMD, Dipl. ABVP, proprietor of New Jersey Equine Clinic. The immediate past president of the Association of American Equine Practitioners (AAEP) was a spectator that day at Pimlico, but he soon became an integral part of a team that worked to stabilize Barbaro's battered lower leg.

Barbaro remained unusually calm and docile, making him a good surgical candidate even though his success rate was a long shot, says Dr. Nick Meittinis, Pimlico's attending veterinarian.

"When we looked in this horse's eye, he knew we were helping him," he says.


Radiographs before and after surgery. With the locking plate system, the heads of the screws can be threaded directly into the plate.
There was no shortage of help. Maryland State Racing Commission Chief Veterinarian Dr. David Zipf, AAEP On-Call Veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage, Dipl. ACVS, and Pimlico veterinarians Drs. Dan Dreyfuss and Rachel Beard also examined the ailing racehorse, all the while fans called out to save him.

It was the beginning of an outpouring from well-wishers and admirers from across the globe. Momentum was building for Barbaro.


More than 50 media outlets swarmed Penn to keep tabs on Barbaro. The college of veterinary medicine fielded thousands of requests for interviews and information.
"This horse received as good or better care as any celebrity counterpart that one could imagine, only bigger with all the horse issues," Palmer says.

Zipf applied a Kimsley splint that was sufficient to get Barbaro back to Stall 40 in Barn E, the one always reserved for the Kentucky Derby winner. The team continued to treat him before the Baltimore City Police's motorcycle escort to Route 83. The motorcade continued by the Maryland State Police and Pennsylvania State Police all the way to the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) New Bolton Center.

"He got top-notch care right from the get-go, which was something that helped a lot — the track crew, the ambulance driver, all those people were tremendous and all deserve some credit," Palmer says.


Dr. Dean Richardson checks on Barbaro the day after his five-hour surgery. Notice the stall turned into a giant get-well card. Below, they visit two weeks later.
The diverse team played critical roles, but the man in the spotlight now was Dr. Dean Richardson, chief of surgery and the Charles W. Raker Professor of Equine Surgery at Penn's Widener Hospital at New Bolton Center.

Palmer recommended Richardson after the diagnosis had been made because of Richardson's expertise in repairing comminuted P1 fractures. They needed a savior. "Dr. Richardson is that surgeon," Palmer says. New Bolton Center was close, has a pool recovery system and an overhead sling for the induction of anesthesia. Palmer made the arrangements.