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How Did I Get Here?


How did I get here?

My favorite horse, my friend of over 16 years, got laminitis and one of the worst cases of it I have ever seen to date. It was 2001 and the vet schools barns in Florida were filled to the brim with very sick horses affected with West Nile Virus, the eye of the infection storm for the country at the time. So when we saw my little 1/2 Arab mare walk strangely, we jumped on the band wagon of "It's Gotta Be West Nile!" and treated her as if that were the case.

I was in my second year of vet school then. I was lucky to have a very competent and nice local veterinarian to help me with my small boarding facility and my own personal horses since I was several years from graduating. I enjoyed our cheerful banter about the trials and tribulations of attending veterinary college and projecting what the fate of equine medicine would be in the future. But several days after agressive treatment for my little mare for a WNV infection, it became clear that that was not was afflicting her at all. She stopped walking “funny” strange and began walking “funny” laminitic; weight shifted back with front feet well out in front of her. The sinking rim and the oozing of serum around her coronary bands. Radiographs confirmed our fears, she did not have WNV, her third phalanx was sinking and rotating in both front feet. Despite our best efforts, she prolapsed her third phalanx (the coffin bone) out the bottoms of both soles. I sobbed. It was over I figured. To make maters worse, I was on my pathology rotation at the vet school and the cooler was just filled with either euthanized horses who's owners could no longer afford the treatment for WNV, colics (of course) and laminitits cases. My professors were very sympathetic to what I was dealing with and gave me permission to skip those laminitis cases if I wanted. But no way! Knowledge was power, and I wanted to learn everything I could about this. I studied and asked questions and sought answers from every knowledgable veterinarian within the walls of my school. As this little mare struggled with the whole process of sinking, we were all very impressed with how brave and actually in good spirits she stayed. She never missed a meal, drank well, stood only to urinate in her deeply bedded straw stall. She even sat up like a dog to then transition herself over to the other side to lay back down on. She was far from developing the horrible bed sores we tried so hard to prevent in recumbent horses in the hospital wards. She was small, only 14.2hh and I had banked that stall so fluffy with shavings and gold straw that she looked like a princess. My class mates and professors were supportive of my rescue efforts, until they heard that P3, both of them, had left the building… “So how are you going to bury her?” they would ask. “I’m looking for a backhoe.” I would tell them with tears in my eyes, and it was the truth. I was not going to let something, someone, I loved suffer for the end of her days! But then, the colleges pain management specialist, an anesthesiologist and hippophile in her own right took me aside. “If that little mare still has fight in her I may be able to help you get her to becoming at least pasture sound.” She said to me. I looked at her like she had to be nuts! “How the heck are we going to do that?” I asked. “I am not a “trust fund” student, I am paying my own way through school. I can’t afford any major treatments, meds or special shoe jobs for her.”

She then told me how she had just gotten certified for acupuncture and that there were chinese herbal formulas and acupuncture protocols aimed at helping just this kind of case. She wanted to help me with her but I had to read a huge text on advanced pain management and some traditional chinese medicine texts and report to her office everyday on my breaks to be quizzed. In return for my study she would come to my barn and treat my little mare. After about 3 treatments, she was up. P3 was staying healthy and new sole tissue was quickly growing around and over the exposed bone. A friend of mine came over and showed me how to trim her feet to encourage good blood flow a support. After the 4th or 5th treatment, I don’t remember, she was teetering around the stable harassing her stall mates and a new foal. 10 months later, I was riding her, yes riding her with rubber soled boots on down the limerock trail. Unbelievable.

I was terrified to see what the follow up radiographs would be a year later but they were amazing! Her third phalanx was healthy and in place. She had plenty of new sole, lots actually.

It was watching that sweet and oh so painful horse respond so obviously to the acupuncture treatments, Chinese herbal formulas and salves that made me pursue, study and add traditional chinese medicine to my medical knowledge.

So thank you my girl.

She was laid to rest 11 years later for complications due to arthritis, but those were a great 11 more years!

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