Horse survives risky surgery, on track for better life
By Sarah Carey
Although the journey has been long and painful for a rescued 2-year-old quarter horse named “Baby Girl,” the gentle buckskin filly is now on the road to recovery thanks to successful surgery Oct. 11 at UF’s Large Animal Hospital, a committed owner, and an ongoing regimen of advanced medical therapy.
“She is very bright and remains upbeat and strong,” said Theresa Batchelor, president of Beauty’s Haven Farm and Equine Rescue, Inc., a non-profit organization located in Morriston, Fla. “She looks good, still loves to eat, and cleans up everything when she gets her meals.”
At the time of her rescue in mid-August, Baby Girl suffered from numerous signs of neglect and injury, including trauma to the right side of her face. She weighed only 295 pounds and could barely eat.
“Baby Girl endured a lot of pain and discomfort for two months before finding her way to us,” Batchelor said. “When she arrived, she was starving to death, while fighting chronic infection. She likely wouldn’t have lasted another week.”
Beauty’s Haven immediately started Baby Girl on a special diet, and within just five weeks, she had gained more than 100 pounds. But the problems with her facial trauma and draining wound continued.
An initial surgery performed at another facility in September to remove bone fragments from the right side of the horse’s jaw resulted in improved range of motion and allowed her to start chewing comfortably, eat more and gain additional weight. However, the wound on Baby Girl’s face was not healing, so Batchelor sought another opinion. Dr. Michael Porter, who owns an advanced mobile diagnostic practice and frequently examines horses at Beauty’s Haven, subsequently referred Baby Girl to UF for a CT scan and surgery.
The scan revealed that a large bone fragment was still present between her jawbone and her skull at the level of her temporomandibular joint. The fragment was dead and a large portion of the bone of both her jaw and skull was severely infected.
Dr. Ali Morton, an associate professor of large animal surgery, told Batchelor that the only viable approach to tackle the animal’s problems would be to surgically remove the problematic bone fragment. However, she knew the procedure would be very risky due to the proximity of the skull bone.
“Dr. Morton wouldn’t even give us 50/50 odds that she would come through the surgery,” Batchelor said. “It was pretty grim. I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut. Yet at the same time, I felt relieved to know what was really going on.”
Morton said the horse’s fracture was unusual and in a very difficult location both to access surgically and to see on a standard radiograph.
“The CT scan was critical to identification of the problem and for surgical planning,” Morton said. “We are very fortunate to have this type of advanced-imaging capability.”
Morton said that in addition to Baby Girl’s fracture, the CT also revealed that she had severe infection of the bone of her jaw and of the thin bone of the base of her skull.
“The fragment was located just millimeters from this bone and the bone was so severely affected that it was questionable if it was even completely intact in the area covering her brain just next to the fragment that had to be removed,” Morton said.
Among the many hurdles Baby Girl had to overcome were recovery from two anesthesia procedures associated with her CT scan and surgery, recuperation from her severe infection and the healing of her wound.
“With the help of Kesmarc Farm, we added hyperbaric oxygen therapy to her antibiotic therapy, and Baby Girl has responded to every step amazingly,” Morton said. “She is still not completely out of the woods, but she is healing beautifully so far. She is a special little horse, tough as nails, and loved by many.”
While cautioning that the horse is be prone in the future to developing arthritis in her jaw, UF veterinarians hope Baby Girl will regain more normal chewing function of her right jaw, and so far this improves daily.
Batchelor said the horse’s weight is now up to 450 pounds. She has responded well to the therapy at Kesmarc and is expected to return home to the farm in November.
“Between UF and Kesmarc, they saved this little girl,” Batchelor said. “I just can’t say enough good things.”
She added that many UF veterinary students volunteer at Beauty’s Haven and that a new group recently started working at the facility.
“God just brings people into your life when you need them most,” Batchelor said. “With Baby Girl coming home soon and these students here to help, everything is falling into place.”
She said time will tell what Baby Girl’s future holds.
“We just need to bring back her quality of life and let her figure out what she wants to do,” Batchelor said.
“I don’t see any limitations, but for us to keep her here indefinitely would not be fair to her. In my opinion every horse deserves its own human family.”
Anyone wishing to track Baby Girl’s progress may do so by visiting the Beauty’s Haven website at http://www.beautysequinerescue.org/daily_blog.htm