After Barbaro’s surgery, the numbers seemed fantastic. Five hours, 23 screws and one plate later, the 3-year-old colt awoke on a raft in a pool and was later moved to a recovery facility. But to veterinarians at MU, this type of surgery is nothing new.
“If this injury would have happened at Fairmount Park (in Illinois), the horse would have come to us,” said Dr. John Janicek Jr., the equine surgery resident at the Equine Center of the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.
The barn at the center consists of 37 stalls and two operating rooms, one for soft tissue and another for orthopedic procedures such as the one Barbaro underwent. The concrete floors and immense metal walls seem as tough as the patients they house, and the khakis and green polos the doctors wear show they have to get dirty every now and again to provide complete care. Janicek, 30, said they are ready for anything.
“We have the facilities, a knowledgeable staff, and the ability to provide the after care, which is the most important part,” he said.
Janicek said that a few years ago at MU, he and a colleague, Dr. Joanne Kramer, successfully completed a surgery on a 5-year-old mare that involved placing two plates and 32 screws along the hind limb cannon bone, a major leg bone in horses. The barrel racing horse was in poor shape after injuring her leg in a pasture, he said, but recovered well after the surgery.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better patient, or a better recovery,” Janicek said.
But surgery is not a numbers game, and less hardware does not necessarily mean a better recovery.
Although Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro underwent a successful surgery on his right leg Sunday, MU veterinarians say the toughest and most uncertain days are still ahead. The injury the colt suffered at the Preakness Stakes was severe, but his doctors gave Barbaro a 50-50 chance for survival.
“A 50-50 shot is being pretty generous,” Janicek said.
Dr. David Wilson, chief of surgery at MU’s equine center, couldn’t ignore the type of injury Barbaro suffered.
“The surgery itself is straightforward, but it is such a severe fracture,” he said. “It’s not a typical fracture, but we would be able to handle something like that here.”
Janicek said the MU equine center typically sees between 25 and 30 horses a year with various fractures but operates on less than half the cases. The survival rate after surgery is normally around 65 percent.