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Barbaro Stabilizes, but His Future Is Uncertain


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. It has been 10 days now since doctors operated on Barbaro. He is the thoroughbred who was favored to win the Preakness and perhaps the Triple Crown, but then suffered a devastating injury to his right hind leg early in the race. After the operation on Barbaro at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, the chief of surgery, Dr. Dean Richardson, said the horse's chances of survival were 50-50. Dr. Richardson joins us now for an update on how Barbaro is doing. And Dr. Richardson, is he doing better chances than 50-50 now?

DEAN RICHARDSON: Well, everyday that goes by certainly improves his chances. I would say that, given we're 10 days out, my opinion is that his prognosis has definitely improved from the day immediately following surgery. There are certain types of complications that tend to occur most frequently in the first several days after surgery, and certainly within the first two weeks. And probably the most important of those is that devastating infection usually starts to show within the first two weeks. And then fact that he's shown no signs thus far of any problems in that regard is very encouraging.

BLOCK: What are the medium term or maybe long term problems that you'd be looking for, assuming that he does get past this first phase here?

RICHARDSON: Well, horses are variable in how well they will wear their casts, and how comfortable they'll stay on the cast limb. And right now, couldn't really ask him to be walking on that any better than he presently is. So if he stays that comfortable, that's a huge advantage for us, because it allows us to be less worried about him laminitis in the opposite foot. That's the number one complication that we're still concerned about, is that he could break down in the opposite hind foot if he starts to get uncomfortable in his fractured limb.

BLOCK: Dr. Richardson, did you see Barbaro today?

RICHARDSON: Oh, of course. Yeah. I see him a few times a day, everyday. I'm usually there quite early and check him early - plus, I have a very experienced staff that's looking at him all day as well.

BLOCK: I'm curious if you're able to gauge Barbaro's mental state in anyway, just as you're keeping track of how he is doing physically. Can you tell at all how he's doing in his head?

RICHARDSON: Yes, you can certainly tell when a horse like that is happy and comfortable whether or they're eating, whether or not they're - you know, if you go to the stall, he turns right around and comes to you. If there's other horses that are out making any noise, he goes right to the front and looks out there and is trying to meet up with them. It's really not much different than a human in the sense that - if they're interested in their surroundings and they're eating and all their vital signs are normal - then you've got a fairly happy horse.

BLOCK: When you think Barbaro's future, his racing career is definitely over with this injury, and I guess the idea now would be can he be a stallion? Can he be a stud horse?

RICHARDSON: That's correct. That still remains to be seen. I mean, there's a lot of people who doubt that he will comfortable enough to act as a, you know, thoroughbred stallion where they have to breed the mares naturally. So he has to get up on his hind legs comfortably. But the fact of the matter is, in horses with these types of injuries, it tends to be sort of an all or none thing. My guess is that he will, if he's good enough to live a happy life, he's probably to feel good enough to breed mares. Libido is a wonderful thing in terms of, you know, motivation. I think if he gets to the point of where he can get around the field, he probably will be feeling good enough to get up to breed a mare.

BLOCK: Libido is a wonderful thing. I think many in our audience would agree with you on that one.


BLOCK: Well, Dr. Richardson, thanks for talking with us today and giving us an update on your most famous patient there.

RICHARDSON: Thank you very much for asking me.

BLOCK: Dr. Dean Richardson. He's Chief of Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, where they're taking care of Barbaro as he recovers after surgery. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.