Letter to the Editor
Following is a story about a life-threatening injury and the remarkable recovery of a racehorse named Frankie. The story is written by Vanessa DeRoux and shares her experience in providing a racehorse with a last chance at life.
I believe your readers will enjoy learning that there are opportunities to heal horses with innovative methods and will be touched by the second career that Frankie is given at the end of the story.
I believe it’s also time to increase awareness that our industry is overflowing with physicians, veterinarians, veterinarian tech-nicians, rehabilitation personnel, trainers and grooms who willingly step up to solve difficult problems. They all do this without compensation because they truly love these wonderful equine athletes. Pegasus Equine Rehabilitation and Training Center is just one of several centers which are stepping up every day throughout this country.
Pegasus Equine Rehabilitation Director
t was a sunny spring day in late April 2007 when five-year-old racehorse Frankie stepped off the trailer at Pegasus Equine Rehabilitation in Redmond. The 30-hour van ride from California would have been tiring for even a healthy horse, but for Frankie, who had been battling an infection in his left front leg for over two months, it was grueling. His ribs were visible even underneath the dullness of his thick gray coat and his eyes lacked any spark of energy. Frankie had come to Pegasus as a last resort. His life rested solely on the hope that hyperbaric oxygen therapy would heal him.
A few months prior to his arrival at Pegasus, Frankie had sustained a severe injury to his left front digital flexor tendons. As a result, he had a large infected wound on the inside of his left front leg that wouldn’t heal. Despite numerous attempts to control the infection and heal the wound, nothing seemed to work. Unwilling to give up, Frankie’s owners networked within the equine industry to fathom a way to help him. Through their contacts, they got in touch with Dr. Mark Dedomenico, owner of Pegasus Equine Rehabilitation and Training Center, who generously offered to take in Frankie as a case study.
Upon his arrival at Pegasus, due to the severity of his wound, Frankie was confined to a stall with a minimal amount of hand-walking. A pressure bandage was kept on his leg at all times and he received a course of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medications. The wound on Frankie’s leg measured 8.6 cm in length and 4.7 cm in width. The first course of business was to cut away all the dead and damaged tissue that was hindering his recovery. He also immediately began to receive the oxygen therapy treatments.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) consists of placing the horse in a large chamber, where it receives 100 percent oxygen at two to three times the normal atmospheric pressure. This increases oxygen saturation in the bloodstream and body tissues, achieving up to 15 times the normal tissue-oxygen level. This high level of oxygen enhances the body’s ability to heal itself, bolsters the effects of any antibiotics that the animal might be on and reduces recovery time from surgery, infection, illness or injury.
Frankie’s initial course of treatment was to receive oxygen therapy daily for 60 minutes. Within the first week of receiving oxygen therapy, the swelling in Frankie’s leg had decreased dramatically.
After just two weeks, Frankie was able to come off both the antibiotics and the anti-inflammatory medications. Within three weeks, the wound was visibly shrinking and the tissue healthy and pink. The changes were so positive that Frankie now only needed oxygen therapy every three days. Thirty days after his arrival at Pegasus and 22 HBOT treatments later, Frankie’s wound had shrunk to 4.9 cm in length and 3 cm in width.
On June 12, 2007, Frankie received his final HBOT treatment. His wound measured only 3 cm in length and 1.5 cm in width. He had put on weight, was playfully spunky and frisky, and enjoyed walking on the Eurociser twice a day with the other horses. In July, Frankie began working in the swimming pool and on the underwater treadmill to gain back his cardiovascular fitness and begin strengthening the damaged tendons. In addition, he began walking under tack again, albeit in a western saddle! Over the next few months, his improvement continued. His muscle tone developed, his fun-loving personality returned, his coat gleamed with health and his wound had all but disappeared. He would never race again, but he was healthy and happy and ready to move on to another career.
On September 13, 2007, less than five months after his arrival at Pegasus, the staff gathered to say goodbye to Frankie as he stepped onto a trailer for his return to California. As everyone waved goodbye, he headed off to his new life on a ranch where he would help troubled youth by being a friend and companion and giving them a second chance at life when everyone else had given up on them – the same second chance that Frankie had been given at Pegasus.
All services and care for Frankie were donated by the following:
Pegasus Equine Rehabilitation Center
Dr. James Bryant, Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish
Dr. Fairfield Bain
Whitty Boome, Re-Wrap
Bob Hubbard Horse Transportation
A native of Alaska, Vanessa DeRoux spent nine years in Southeastern Pennsylvania, where she received her BS in equine science from Delaware Valley College. Upon graduation, she managed the 1,000-acre non-profit Bucks County Horse Park, overseeing the facility, staff, membership-base, and helping to run over 50 annual horse shows in almost every discipline. In addition, she co-managed the private boarding facility where she stabled her Thoroughbred mare. DeRoux moved back to the Pacific Northwest in early 2007 when she joined the Pegasus rehabilitation team.
Washington Thoroughbred, January 2009, page 44