Horse home and happy for the holidays
By Caitlyn Hartley
Cheryl Rolfe’s Fourth of July wasn’t filled with fireworks or barbecue. Instead, she spent her day in panic as she raced her 15-month-old Gypsy Vanner colt, Zip, to the University of Florida Large Animal Hospital.
After a tragic accident, Zip’s chest was impaled by a metal T-post, which led to a three-month stay full of surgeries and close calls. Because of Andrew Smith, D.V.M., a large animal surgery resident, and faculty from both surgery and medicine, including Drs. David Freeman, Chris Sanchez and Robert MacKay, Zip is finally home in Lake City on a steady path to recovery.
Zip was in his stall when Rolfe’s neighbors let their pet pig loose in the pasture next to hers. Rolfe’s barn is lined with boards about 5 feet high with a metal fence post right outside the stall wall. Her other horse, a gelding with poor eyesight, shares the barn with Zip.
“When the gelding saw the pig, he freaked and went tearing past the stall Zip was in,” Rolfe said. “Zip had his head down, and when he heard the gelding come tearing up from behind him, he instinctively bolted forward.”
Zip ran into the stall boards, and they broke. The now exposed metal T-post pierced into Zip’s side, puncturing his chest wall.
Rolfe, who works at a veterinarian’s office, attempted to remain calm on her way to the hospital even though everything seemed to be at its worst.
“Of course, it was horribly hot and pouring down rain on the way there,” she said. “I didn’t think we were ever going to get to the vet school. He had a big hole in chest. I was very worried and scared.”
Smith said the metal post punctured Zip’s right thoracic cavity and fractured one of his ribs. His condition worsened after developing bilateral pneumothorax, which is a collection of air in the thoracic cavity causing collapse of both lung lobes.
Under standing sedation, an endoscope was placed within Zip’s chest that evening and identified the fractured rib fragments that had penetrated into and were free-floating within the thoracic cavity. The following morning, surgery was performed to remove the rib fragments. An attempt was also made to completely close the original wound and this was unsuccessful. Several tubes were placed in Zip’s chest, both to continuously remove the air and allow re-expansion of his lungs as well as to drain any accumulating fluid.
After the surgery, Rolfe and Smith were hoping for a full recovery, but Zip’s condition worsened.
“It seemed like every time we started talking about making arrangements to bring him home, he would get worse again. So, they ended up taking him back into surgery,” Rolfe said. During the second surgery, wires were placed around the ribs in front of and behind the original, fractured rib to reduce pressure on the incision and allow primary closure of the original wound. Following surgery, Zip developed persistent fevers and pleuropneumonia. For the next few weeks, every day was a battle and Smith based each next step on Zip’s mood.
“A few weeks after his second surgery and countless chest tubes later, he actually turned a corner,” Smith said. “After a month of treating him, you could tell when he had a bad day or a good day. You could always tell with Zip. He had a great attitude even when he was down and out. After surgery, I knew he had a fever, but he’s telling me he still wants to live, so that’s the way we treated him.”
Zip, now 20-months-old, made the trip home and is improving every day. He finished his antibiotics and continues to gradually build his strength. Rolfe said she is so grateful for the hospital’s unwavering dedication to save her “baby.”
“It was one of those kinds of extraordinary cases,” Rolfe said. “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong and then in spite of it, he managed to survive. He’s just an amazing colt, and I just cannot tell you how great the entire medical team was. They are wonderful people.”