Vet, Cardiologist Look at Foal's Heart

Vet, Cardiologist Look at Foal's Heart
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Cardiologist Dr. John Gurley works on the foal being held by Tara Spach. Ultrasound screen in foreground shows the foal's heart and the colored area highlights the defect.
A human interventional cardiologist and an equine veterinarian in Lexington, Ky. have successfully completed the first step of a landmark procedure to repair a heart problem called a –ventricular septal defect” in a foal. The procedure was performed July 9.

Dr. John Gurley, associate professor and director of the University of Kentucky catheterization lab, used a heart catheter (passed through the jugular vein) and a special ultrasound probe to view the 5-month-old chestnut Thoroughbred's heart from the inside.

The colt's defect involves a hole in the wall between the lower chambers of the heart in which blood leaks from the left to the right side. The defect causes a loud heart murmur, which was detected when the foal was being evaluated for a fever caused by an unrelated problem.

Fairfield Bain is the colt's treating veterinarian at Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary hospital near Lexington. He asked Gurley if he would attempt a procedure to correct the problem at the clinic.

Bain said he sees about eight to 10 horses a year with this type of defect. While some have successfully performed with the defects, many eventually show the long-term effects of heart failure.

Gurley viewed the hole with the intracardiac ultrasound and it measured about one centimeter in diameter. Gurley and Bain believe installing a closure device to plug the hole would be feasible without interfering with the nearby valves.

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