The battle for Barbaro's life ended peacefully, according to Dr. Dean Richardson, who spoke during a press conference at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center Monday afternoon, just hours after Roy and Gretchen Jackson's colt had been euthanized.
"We were all there," said Richardson of Barbaro's final moments. "He was in a sling, and he was comfortable in the sense he was on a lot of (pain) medication. But he was alert, aware, and he knew the Jacksons. Basically, what happened, he was given a very heavy dose of tranquilizer first (intravenously), and then he was given an overdose of an anesthetic. It could not have been any more peaceful."
Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner, also ate some grass the morning he died.
The decision to euthanize the colt, who shattered his right hind leg in last year's Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and later developed laminitis in his left hind foot, was made following what Richardson described as a "difficult night."
The main problem was that Barbaro "did not lie down," Richardson said. "He's a horse that, for months, has been an exceptionally quiet, calm, and relaxed horse. He would sleep. We could go in there (his stall) and work on him. He would lie down and get up. Last night was the first night ever that he was clearly distressed by his condition. We intensified all his pain medications pretty dramatically last night, trying to get him to go down, and he did not . We put him in another sling. Again, I want to emphasize that we stated and we meant what we said, if we couldn't control his discomfort, we wouldn't go on, and that was why the decision (to euthanize him) was made."
Barbaro's latest problems were not caused directly by the fractures he suffered in his right hind leg. They had completely healed, according to Richardson.
The discomfort from the laminitis in Barbaro's left hind foot caused him to become "very lame," Richardson said. As a result, the surgeon explained, Barbaro's right hind leg was forced to bear a "tremendous amount" of weight.
"He developed a pretty severe bruise on the outside heel of his right hind foot," Richardson said. "He was bearing so much weight on that leg because he was getting off in his left hind. The consequence of that deep bruise on the outside of his right hind foot is that he ended up with an abscess under the sole in the heel region of his foot. The foot is not the location where he had his fractures. His fractures were in his pastern and fetlock region, which are above that.
"It was this right hind foot that started the (latest) problem. He developed laminitis in both front feet, the reason being he had no hind feet (to support him). He was uncomfortable behind, and then he started overloading his front feet."
An external fixation device was placed in his right hind leg, but it all got to be too much.
"This type of situation is like a deck of cards," Richardson said. "Sometimes, when things are that tenuous, if one thing starts to go, you've got other parts that go as well. That's essentially what happened."
Richardson added that he was "as comfortable as I'm likely to get" about the decision to euthanize Barbaro. "I feel it was the right thing to do now," the surgeon said. "I can assure you in many cases I have personally had in the past, I know I waited too long. I don't think that's the case here."
According to Richardson, Barbaro provided a learning experience that could help to save other horses with similar injuries.
"It's going to be mostly specific details about surgical and medical care, which I don't think are going to be all that pertinent to the world at large," Richardson said. "A lot of times there are just very gradual accumulations of information and expertise. If I had a horse with the same fracture come in tomorrow, I honestly believe I would have a better chance of saving his life because I would think I would probably not make the same mistakes. I'm sure I made mistakes."
On a more positive note, "Barbaro had eight or nine months (following his injury), the vast majority of which he he was a happy horse," Richardson said.
Said Roy Jackson: "There is absolutely nothing we would have done differently, including the decision that was made today."
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