December 2013 Issue - page 9

December 2013
Page 9
At dawn on a Tuesday
morning in July, world-renowned
surgeon Dean Richardson, DVM,
opened an e-mail from two equine
surgeons in Ireland. Included
were two radiographs of a horse’s
shattered leg. The questions: “Can
this horse be saved? What are the
chances of survival?”
St. Nicholas Abbey, the
greatest money-winning, Eu-
ropean-trained racehorse of all
time, had shattered his right fore
pastern while exercising at Bally-
doyle, the racing arm of legend-
ary international Thoroughbred
breeders Coolmore Stud. It was
to be his final exercise before a
major race at Royal Ascot.
The Chief of Large Animal
Surgery at Penn Vet’s New Bolton
Center in Kennett Square, PA,
Dr. Richardson immediately
examined the radiographs. “I said
I thought there was at least a 50-
percent chance that we could save
the horse,” he recalled in a recent
interview. “They said that was
enough for them to give it a go.”
Dr. Ger Kelly and Dr. Tom
O’Brien had known Dr. Rich-
ardson – one of the world’s
preeminent experts on the repair
of complex equine fractures – for
years. In fact, the two surgeons
had learned from Dr. Richardson
during lectures and laboratories at
several international conferences.
Dr. Richardson packed up
several large cases filled with
highly specialized surgical equip-
Two bone plates, 20 screws and a large temporary pin stabilize the shat-
tered leg of Europe’s richest racehorse, St. Nicholas Abbey. Dr. Dean
Richardson of Chester County, PA’s New Bolton Center flew to Ireland
to assist with the surgery and follow-up.
Photo credit: Coolmore
Richardson Part of Team Working to Save St. Nicholas Abbey
ment and implants from New
Bolton Center, as well as some
loaned by the Synthes company
in nearby Paoli, PA, and headed
to the airport, boarding a private
jet just before midnight on July
23. Landing at Shannon Airport
in western Ireland, he hopped
on a waiting helicopter and flew
directly to the Fethard Equine
Hospital in County Tipperary.
Drs. Kelly and O’Brien met
Dr. Richardson at the hospital, and
the surgeons examined the injured
Thoroughbred. After discussing
the surgical plan and double-
checking that all instruments and
implants were available, the team
went straight into surgery.
“It was an extremely
challenging surgery,” said Dr.
Richardson, explaining that the
horse had multiple fractures of
the proximal and middle phalan-
ges, which are two out of three
bones below the fetlock joint.
There was marked separation of
fracture fragments in both the fet-
lock (metacarpophalangeal) and
the pastern (proximal interpha-
langeal) joints. The fetlock was
surgically dislocated in order to
accurately reconstruct the joint in
an effort to minimize the likeli-
hood of severe arthritis.
“The bones weren’t just
fractured, they were shattered,”
Dr. Richardson said.
During the surgery, it was
evident that some of the smaller
bone fragments had lost their
blood supply and had to be
removed, leaving several gaps
that required a bone graft from
the horse’s pelvis to replace the
damaged bone.
“We had to carefully piece
back together the major fragments
with multiple individual screws.
After the basic reconstruction
was done, we used two locking
bone plates to further stabilize the
fractures and bridge the pastern
joint,” Dr. Richardson said,
estimating the surgery took three
hours. “We used a total of two
bone plates and 20 screws and
a large temporary pin above the
fetlock to further protect the site.”
Although Dr. Richardson
has been brought in for surgeries
around the country and the world,
St. Nicholas Abbey’s case was
extraordinary. “I would put this
among the most difficult fractures
I have ever repaired,” he said.
Special Horse
And this is a special horse.
The six-year-old bay stallion is
one of the biggest money-win-
ning horses in European racing
history, earning the equivalent of
$8 million before his devastating
Fortunately, St. Nicholas Ab-
bey had a smooth recovery from
anesthesia, and the three surgeons
retired to McCarthy’s pub for
The next day, the surgeons
were anxious to check on St.
Nicholas Abbey. “I looked at
the horse the next morning,” Dr.
Richardson said. “He looked re-
ally, really good.”
About 22 hours after he had
arrived, Dr. Richardson boarded
the same jet and headed back
home to Pennsylvania.
(Continued on page 33)
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