Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra is battling infection as she tries to recover from surgery to treat a colon injury suffered while foaling a healthy Bernardini filly Feb. 12.
Following surgery Feb. 13 at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital to treat the injured small colon and infection, the 2009 Blackberry Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner continued to receive treatment Feb. 14 at the Lexington equine hospital.
Managing clinicians Brett Woodie, a veterinary surgeon, and Bonnie Barr, an equine internal medicine specialist, said it was too early to offer a prognosis.
"Right now it's too early to say," Barr said during a Feb. 14 press conference at Rood & Riddle. "We have to see how she responds to treatment and take it one day at a time."
"She's doing as best as we could expect at this state of her recovery," Woodie added.
Because of a difficult foaling of the Bernardini filly Feb. 12 at Stonestreet Farm near Lexington, Rachel Alexandra was monitored closely, said Stonestreet owner Barbara Banke.
Despite the difficulties, Rachel Alexandra appeared to be in good health until 2:30 p.m. Feb. 13 when a change in her demeanor was noted. The 7-year-old Medaglia d'Oro mare was immediately rushed to Rood & Riddle to undergo exploratory abdominal surgery to determine the cause of excess fluid in her abdominal cavity, which signals an infection.
Woodie said surgery identified the infection cause as a section of small colon that had lost its blood supply because of an injury during foaling. The colon issue allowed bacteria to be released into the abdomen. The damaged section of intestine was removed and extensive abdominal flushing was performed to remove inflammatory cells and bacteria.
"This loss of blood supply had compromised the integrity of the intestinal wall, which allowed bacteria access to her abdominal cavity," Woodie said. "We were able to remove this compromised section of the small colon."
Because of the nature and extent of the problem, the surgery was long and technically demanding, but Woodie said recovery from anesthesia was uncomplicated.
Barr said Rachel Alexandra is receiving intravenous antibiotics, fluids, anti-inflammatory agents, and nutrition to counteract the effects of bacterial toxins. Medications are also being administered to aid in the prevention of scar tissue in the abdominal cavity. A standing abdominal flushing using abdominal drains placed at surgery is also being performed several times a day.
Woodie did not speculate on the direct cause of the trauma to the small colon, only that it occurred during foaling. The foal, at 140 pounds, is the largest foal born at Stonestreet this year but Woodie said that was not necessarily a factor, noting that many foals that size are born without complication.
A concerned Banke said she appreciated Rachel Alexandra's fans reaching out to her and hopes they keep the mare in their thoughts and prayers.
This is the second foal for Rachel Alexandra, who received treatment for pain at Rood & Riddle following the birth of her Curlin colt last year.
As for the 2013 Bernardini foal, Stonestreet farm manager Garry Megibben said the filly immediately took to a nurse mare at the farm and is doing well.