Pulling a horse through colic surgery is difficult enough, but when a 26-year-old gelding with Cushing’s Disease is the patient, it takes a talented surgeon and a dedicated nursing staff to have him back home 10 days later.
The patient, Aladdin, and his best buddy, Whiskey, were left in the care of family while the horse owner took her first vacation in 10 years. And, since horses seem to have an uncanny knack for poorly-timed maladies, Aladdin colicked. Thanks to a quick-thinking referring veterinarian, some complicated surgery at Reid and Associates Equine Clinic, and round-the-clock care from Reid’s ace nursing staff, Aladdin and Whiskey are happy pasture mates once more.
His primary vet was called and when Aladdin didn’t respond to treatment out in the field, he was quickly sent to Reid and Associates near Wellington, Florida, for a surgical consult. Meanwhile, his referring vet, Dr. Zachary Franklin of Homestead, Florida, generously took Whiskey, anxious from being separated from his friend, home with him to avoid another possible emergency.
“Aladdin had a very obvious small bowel problem that required immediate correction,” said Dr. Alexander Daniel, a surgical specialist at Reid and Associates trained at the Royal Veterinary College in London, England, and Colorado State University. Aladdin was in surgery within an hour of diagnosis, a key to the horse’s survival.
“He had a lipoma, a benign fatty tumor, that was blocking the last few inches of his small intestine, which is very common in older horses,” Dr. Daniel said. “We removed the lipoma but found that he had also developed a twist of another section of his small intestine and had a big tear in the mesentery (tissues attaching the intestines to the wall of the abdomen) of the small intestine. We thought that everything had a good chance of repair, so we did the surgery and it went really well.”
Not only was the surgery complicated but so was the recovery – Aladdin has Cushing’s Disease and lost his appetite after the procedure. Under the direction of Hospital/Critical Care Barn Manager Diane Laudadio, the nursing staff sprang in to action to control and combat these concerns.
“The nursing staff was crucial in Aladdin’s recovery,” Dr. Daniel said. “They spent 24/7 with him for more than a week. The hardest thing was getting him to eat. His appetite was not there but he did better when someone was standing with him. Every time I came by, one of the nursing staff was beside him.”
Aladdin was offered a smorgasbord of choices. He had five buckets with different kinds of grain along with fresh, hand-picked grass, hay and alfalfa. The nurses made a special trip to the feed store to buy the brand his owner suggested and they sprinkled his supplements on top to tempt him with his usual flavors.
“Day after day, he had a nurse feeding him or syringing a nutritional gel,” Dr. Daniel said. “Every day he started to eat more and more, and every day he started to look a little bit brighter.”
At the same time, they kept a keen eye on Aladdin’s electrolytes, blood glucose and triglycerides.
“We were giving him infusions to combat some of those issues and medications to support his system,” Dr. Daniel said. “Because he has Cushing’s, his feet were in crushed ice 24/7 for a week to prevent laminitis. He also became toxic after the surgery which can also make a horse laminitic which was another reason for the ice therapy.”
After 10 days of dedicated nursing care, Aladdin was able to return home. “He’s doing wonderfully,” Dr. Daniel said, adding that three things were essential to the story’s happy conclusion; Dr. Franklin’s quick response, his willingness to take care of Aladdin’s buddy, and Reid and Associates’ nursing staff’s incredible care.
“A good surgical job is to be expected,” Dr. Daniel said of the complicated surgery he performed. “What I thought was exceptional was the team effort. I’ve told all of the nursing staff multiple times that I think they are the ones who really saved this horse. Not every facility has that level of attention. I have worked at several hospitals and the nursing care here is exemplary. They were integral in his recovery.
The staff is experienced and this is the normal level of care here every day. That’s not something that I think people realize. They are the unsung heroes.” Whether it’s catering to a finicky eater post-op, staving off laminitis with round-the-clock icing or assisting in surgery, the team at Reid and Associates always has the horse’s health at heart.