Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A bump in the road

The first few days at Kelly's farm went well, as we all tried to settle into a routine. Kelly was performing most of the treatments and medicating, so my visits primarily involved grooming and fussing over Suki! She was going outside twice a day for short periods before sunrise and after sunset. The exercise was a crucial element in Suki's recovery, both physical and mental well being. She was learning how to be a horse again. While I am certain that she was happy about this, you can't tell me that she didn't miss her air conditioning and lack of bugs from ICU!

Kelly recognized Suki's diva personality right form the start. She was constantly amazed by how gentle Suki was given her enormous size. Kelly also discovered Suki's game with water. "Suki spit water at me!" she said. I just laughed. "Oh yeah. I forgot to warn you about that!" I laughed. Suki loves to take a big drink of water when you are standing in her stall. But she doesn't swallow it, and you can see (once you know that she does it) that she is holding the water in her mouth. "Spit it out", I say to her. Suki then turns her head and spits the water out on the floor. Such a jokster, that girl!

Toward the end of the first week Kelly called me at around 10 PM. "Suki has gotten her halter over her ear and she won't let me get near her head", Kelly said. Suki has always been fine about having her face, head and ears handled, but the treatments required after the fire had made her little head shy.

Again, Michael was away of course....perfect timing as usual! I suggested sedating her and removing the halter, but Kelly did not have the appropriate medication for this. My friend Donna was farm sitting next door, so I called her for help. Donna agreed to go and give a hand, so I found myself waiting again for a telephone call. Donna and Kelly re-evaluated the situation and we decided to call the vet for assistance.

Dr. XX sedated Suki and tried to remove the halter. Because she had been scratching her head on the wall the halter had pulled over her ear and caused some bleeding to the wound on her ear that was still healing since the calf incident. The fabric on the padded halter was now adhered to Suki's ear with dried blood. All of that was removed and the wound dressed again. Dr. XX recommended that we keep the halter off to avoid this problem in the future. I was hesitant to do that because it was our only means of restraint, and Suki was not to the point where a halter could be put on and taken off easily. With daily treatments required, my concern was not having the ability to control her for that purpose. But Kelly had been treating Suki's wounds while she was eating and felt comfortable continuing it in that way. With a door directly leading into her paddock, she did not even require a halter for turnout. The area behind Suki's ears was taking a long time to heal because the halter was rubbing on it also. Everyone agreed: best to leave the halter off. "Okay," I finally agreed. "Let's give it a try."

This seemed to work well, so we were back on track. I have to admit, Suki seemed much more comfortable without the halter. It's just so difficult to determine what is going to work best in that situation. No one really had any experience in dealing with a horse recovering from severe burns, so we operated a lot by trial and error! The common denominator was that everyone's main concern was keeping Suki comfortable and happy.

Poor Kelly had to mix the sloppy medicine potion every day and make sure that Suki ate all of it twice a day. I know that it was a lot of work. With Suki's requirements and the need to check her every hour or so, Kelly became somewhat tethered to the farm. There isn't any way that Suki would have been able to be in a regular boarding situation with all of that care. I would not have been able to devote that much time to her care with all of my other responsibilities. It makes you realize the necessity of good rehabilitation/lay up farms in the horse industry.

November 29, 2011
Rainy day today, so Suki was only out for a little while this morning. But that is certainly better than nothing! She really enjoyed her grooming, etc last night and even let me massage her face. I wish that I didn't have to put the bandage on her skin graft area, but it needs the padding for now still. I am hoping that by spring the skin will be tough enough to go without it.
The shadow on Suki's eye in this photo is not an ulcer....it is just the photo. The ulcers cleared within a week and her vision appears to be completely normal.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Day at Kelly's

Suki seemed to settle in well that first day. Kelly was comfortable with handling her, so I went home for yet another restless night! Although I was comfortable with Kelly taking care of Suki, I was pretty nervous about that first night. At New Bolton I knew that Suki was being watched at all times, and was in a very controlled environment. This was a new situation, and would require a period of adjustment.

Apparently I was not the only one who had a restless night. When I spoke to Kelly the next day she had quite a story to tell! Suki had been making mean faces at the horse in the stall next to her. She can do a snake face that now rivals my late mare Jenny! This poor little horse was cowering on the far side of his stall, so Kelly moved the horses around. Magic, a very cute Paint gelding was put in the stall next to Suki. He was completely unmoved by her antics. In fact, Magic would stand right next to the bars and not even flinch! Suki had met her match.

Because of this switch, Kelly was nervous about how things would play out during the night. So she pulled her car up to the barn and slept in it, in order to be able to keep a close watch on everyone. Many people take their work seriously, but Kelly proved to me that she was unmatched in her dedication to Suki's care.

Before sunrise the next day, Kelly let Suki out in the small paddock behind her stall (photo). It was the first time that Suki was outside, without a lead rope since the day of the fire. A grand moment indeed!

Turnout for horses is so essential to their physical and mental health, so this was a huge step in Suki's progress. The paddock was large enough to walk and trot around without getting into too much trouble. That first morning Kelly was treated to Suki's piaffe and passage....you can take the girl out of the dressage arena, but you can't take the natural instinct of the breeding out of the girl! Kelly would witness much of Suki's brilliance during these outings! She once commented that her little horses could not canter in these paddocks, but there was 17.2+ hand Suki, cantering 10 meter circles simply for the sheer joy of movement!

Kelly was diligent in feeding Suki her medications, and treating her skin. Within the first 24 hours I knew that my decision was the right one. But we still had a long way to go.

November 27, 2011
Suki was out all day today, so I know that she was happy. It is very relaxing for both of us as we perform our evening ritual of skin care and grooming.
I was also treated to a wonderful early morning ride on Nikki. It was cold, but you forget about the elements as soon as you put your foot in the stirrup!
Thanks for the comments....I have not been able to post responses but am working on that!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I'm outa here!

August 25, 2009: nearly seven weeks after being admitted to New Bolton Center, Suki was discharged. I was thrilled that she was well enough to leave the confines of ICU, but also terrified. We still had a long road ahead of us. While Suki was in the hospital, I knew that she was being well cared for and any complications would be handled immediately. Life on the outside would be different, and while Kelly would be handling most of the care, emergencies would require calling out a veterinarian. I knew that I could call the doctors at New Bolton any time I needed to, but the security of the past seven weeks was gone.

Several days before, I bought new leg wraps for Suki. In addition to almost losing my horse I had lost practically all of my equipment. Years and years of the accumulation of equipment and supplies, gone in the blink of a spark.

I was a bundle of nervous energy during the drive to Kennett Square. There just seemed to be so many loose ends and questions. I felt so unprepared for the next phase in her recovery, but also realized it was time for Suki to be a horse again.

My husband brought the trailer around close to the ICU building while I went to the front desk to complete the paperwork. I was handed several pages of instructions, several boxes of medicine and supplies, and a $17,000 vet bill. The receptionists were teary and there were hugs all around. They have seen so much in that office. Many people leave in tears when their beloved horses do not survive. I was one of the lucky ones. My story had a happy ending.

We decided to slightly tranquilize Suki for the trip, since we did not know how she would react to getting into a horse trailer. Legs wrapped and a little woozy, nurse X led Suki out of ICU and into the sunshine. At first it looked as if she might walk right onto the trailer.....but then changed her mind. When it became apparent that in spite of our patients and persistence Suki was NOT going to load, we called the behaviorist who had worked on trailer loading before. I like to refer to it as her "psych consult". Fifteen minutes later Suki was on the trailer.

An hour or so behind schedule, I called Kelly to tell her that we were finally on our way. The trip was smooth. Thank heaven for small favors! Kelly was there to greet us and to help get Suki settled in. She welcomed me with a hug....sometimes you just need that.

Suki unloaded easily and walked into her new stall. She has always settled in easily to new surroundings, but I was unsure of how traumatized she was by the fire. Apparently, as she had demonstrated all along, Suki is quite resilient. She made faces at the horse in the stall next to her, who cowered on the other side of his stall, then got down to the business of eating her hay.

Kelly had prepared a cheese, fruit and cracker platter for us. "I know how everyone always forgets to eat!" she said. We went through all of the instructions from New Bolton again, and I was pretty confident that Suki would be OK. There was nothing left for me to do but go home and get a good night's sleep. I was emotionally drained! Suki seemed fine!

November 24, 2011
Thanksgiving. A long day of cooking, but I went to see Suki this morning and snuck in an early morning ride on Nikki. That always makes me feel better. I added some photos to this post as an experiment....thoughts?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Preparing for life on the outside

After nearly six weeks in ICU, we started to prepare Suki for discharge. Other than the one brief (and heart pounding for the student) walk, Suki had not been outside since being admitted to New Bolton. It was now August, and very hot and buggy. The ICU is air conditioned with no flies. It would be an adjustment! She continued her four times a day walks, which got her out of the stall and a chance to motor around a bit. For the most part she was very good about the walks with only occasional incidents! Neither man nor beast was injured!

New Bolton become almost a second home to me, and although the circumstances were quite precarious at first, we had all settled into a routine, and knew that Suki would survive. I think that was one of the most difficult aspects of Suki's case. She was in such critical condition when she arrived that her survival had been questionable. The staff in the ICU dedicated themselves to her care and though I know that is their job, there were many occasions where they went above and beyond their job description. We all kept waiting for the complications and setbacks. Thankfully, they never came.

Suki's first student caretaker, M, was amazing. She was diligent, dedicated and patient. When M saw how much of the VERY EXPENSIVE SSD was being used, she contacted the company and asked if they would be willing to donate any of their product for Suki. The company sent a CASE of large SSD jars. This saved me thousands of dollars. We made a thank you card with a picture of Suki and sent it to them. The kindness of strangers was beginning to overwhelm me! The receptionist who was always so kind to me brought carrots from her garden for Suki, and strangers would approach and ask me about her.

The tips of Suki's beautiful ears finally fell off. It was very sad to see. I know that sounds vain, but at the time it made me cry. One of the nurses told Suki that because she had eaten so many gummy bears, she grew bear ears! Those short ears are now her most endearing physical feature. There is a lesson to be learned here as well. When humans suffer from a disfiguring illness or injury they become self conscious, embarrassed and are subject to stares from others. While animals are also subject to the stares, they are not aware that they look different from "normal" and so are free to be who they are. Attractive physical attributes are wonderful, but they are nothing without the beauty that comes from the inside. Animals give love without condition, and do not hold themselves to the same physical standards that humans do. Suki is who she was before the fire, and that makes me smile. She still does her super model runway walk to show the world who she is!

Suki's skin required extensive daily treatments. The sensitive new skin needed to stay clean and moisturized and the small are of burned skin that remained across her back required gentle cleaning. We were seeing daily improvements and new hair growth as a result of the quality of care that she was receiving. In addition, there were the daily medications, which because of preparation and supervised feeding was fairly time consuming. I was worried that Kelly would feel overwhelmed. This was a huge undertaking, and I did not know how long this type of care would be required.

Each time I visited Suki I would look around the ICU to see who was there and what they were in for. One evening I saw a beautiful Clydesdale in the stall. The nurses told me that he had had laryngeal surgery which is apparently common to the breed. Usually it is very routine, but this guy experienced an anesthesia reaction and had to visit CU for a few days. I looked on his stall card and saw that it said "Budweiser". "How cute", I said. "His name is Budweiser!" "No", said one of the nurses. "He IS a Budweiser!" Any of the Budweiser Clydesdales that require this surgery are sent to New Bolton to have the procedure performed. I just thought that was so cool! He was VERY cute!

While Suki was in the hospital, a fundraiser dressage show was held in the outdoor rings at Pink Star, site of the fire. Initially this money was to be distributed among all of us. Someone decided that it should all go to Suki. Again, I was grateful for their kindness.

November 21, 2011
I got home from the conference at 1 AM. Uggh....VERY tired!
This morning I went over to check Suki, and of course, when I called her name she answered back. It felt wonderful to throw my arms around her neck and hug her (even if I would have to go to the office smelling like a horse!). Can't wait to see Nikki tomorrow.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Finding a rehab farm

Five weeks into her New Bolton stay, Suki was still taking antibiotics and gabapentin. The gabapentin is used to treat neuropathic pain, which is common in burn patients. The healing of these burns can cause much burning and itching, and Suki needed to remain as comfortable as possible. It was vital for her to have these drugs, so it was a relief to have found a way for her to take them easily.

We also encountered some behavioral issues which were a result of the treatments, I’m sure. With her cloth halter and sensitive skin on her head, restraining Suki continued to be difficult. In fact at one point she became very difficult to catch in her stall. The size of the mare and foal stall made it even easier for her to evade people. The doctors did not want to put Suki back in the smaller stall because they felt that it was better for her to be able to move around more, and they were still hopeful that she would lie down. Ultimately we had to clip a short lead (about 10 inches long) to her halter for her to wear all the time. As it became more difficult to treat around Suki’s head, an animal behaviorist started to visit her and work through some of these issues. At some point she would leave the hospital and need to be handled in a less controlled atmosphere.
I really believe that Suki looked forward to my visits. I always called her name as I entered ICU, and she always answered with a nicker. As I opened the door and looked into the unit I could see her putting her eye close to the bars to look for me. Most people say that one of the reasons Suki recovered was because of the time I spent with her while she was in the hospital. I don’t know if that is the case, but from the beginning I knew that it was important for her to know that I was there. We had been together for six years and I would do everything I could to aid in her recovery.

Even with a significant amount of eschar still across Suki’s back, the doctors began to discuss her release from the hospital. This skin would gradually peel away with minimal assistance, but Suki was getting to the point where living in ICU would no longer be necessary. Once released, however, she would require oral medications twice a day and treatment to the burned skin. This was more than could be managed by me in a regular boarding situation. We would have to locate a rehabilitation barn. New Bolton has lists of a variety of facilities for that purpose but the majority were located near the hospital. I wanted some place closer to home so that I could be actively involved in the process.

My research and networking led to many dead ends. I contacted a local Hanoverian breeding farm. Although they did not have the staff to accommodate Suki’s needs, the owner passed along the name of a part time employee. Kelly Buss, who had her own small farm was a dedicated horse person with a good reputation.

I first reached out to Kelly by email, explaining the situation, followed by a telephone conversation with the details. We arranged for a visit. Kelly’s farm is in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, about thirty minutes from my house and twenty minutes from my office. The property appeared to be well maintained, with the barn far back from the road. The layout seemed perfect for my needs. Each stall had direct access to its own, individual paddock with a lovely view of the valley. This would enable Suki to begin to go outside again not requiring her to be led very far to get there. This was perfect since she was still not able to wear a regular halter or be restrained very well.

I liked Kelly immediately. She was friendly and passionate about her work with horses. Kelly suggested that she go to New Bolton, meet Suki and speak with her doctors. Learning first hand what treatments were required and how to perform them. I felt like I could finally breathe, even though I was concerned that once she saw the situation she might change her mind!
In addition to the medical needs there were basic living requirements that were different from the other horses in Kelly’s barn. Her horses were bedded on shavings, which is very common in our area. There were still some open wounds, plus the section of skin yet to fall off, requiring that she be bedded on straw. Straw is cleaner and better suited to her current condition. While it was important for Suki to begin going outside again she would only be allowed out before sunrise and after sunset due to the sensitive new skin.

Following her trip to New Bolton, Kelly called me and said that she was willing to take Suki into her care. I was so relieved.

November 19, 2011
I am still at the conference and missing my family (2-legged and 4-legged) immensely. Not to worry though. Nikki is being ridden by Meaghan, and Suki is being cared for by Deb.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Skin sloughing and hair growth

During her treatment at New Bolton, the dead skin fell away, and eventually we started to see significant hair growth. Early on the only areas that I was able to brush were her legs and belly, but after a few weeks there was new hair to take care of!

Applying ointment to Suki's head remained difficult, but that dedicated staff managed to do it! The eyelids had contracted slightly at this point during healing, but her eyes were still able to close completely. A significant amount of healing was ahead so the potential for surgery lingered in our thoughts. I dreaded the thought of eyelid surgery for Suki. Applying medication would be a nightmare!

I spent most of my visits grooming Suki, feeding her treats, or just talking to her. Some days were difficult for me because I would look at Suki and be reminded of the fear and pain that she must have experienced that night. It honestly did, and still does make my heart hurt. And how amazing that in spite of all of that, and her daily treatments, the opinionated, diva personality was still intact. I am told that many horses would have given up, but Suki had a strong will to survive. Great medical care probably had quite a bit to do with it too! : )

The daily walks increased to four times a day, and everyone said that Suki really looked forward to them Sometimes she would try to drag the person leading her down the hall, but usually she just strolled along.

Every 2 weeks a new vet student would be assigned to Suki. The selection was carefully made, because a bit of extra dedication was required to meet her needs. Among one of the groups there were not many to choose from and the vet student assigned to Suki was terrified of her, and Suki would take complete advantage! They had to reassign someone after only a few days.

Two weeks after the fire I started to take pictures of Suki's progress. I think before that I was afraid of jinxing her survival. But two weeks out I was confident she would survive. That was probably pretty naive of me, considering the number of complications that could occur!

November 17, 2011
Sorry for the short post this evening. I am at a conference in LA, and time is scarce. Suki is being well cared for though, so no need to worry! I am fortunate to have some really great support for her care when I need to travel for work.

During my long flight I read a book titled "Collective Marks" It is a novel that demonstrates the healing power of horses with a focus on dressage training. It's not sappy or corny, but I think really hits the mark.

I will try to continue to post while I am out here, but my brain is a bit fried, so I may just wait until I get home on Monday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Suki does not like cows!

Slowly, Suki's skin began to improve, even as additional burned skin fell away. Her attitude was amazing. She truly seemed happy and almost normal. Of course, any diva knows, the more attention the better!

A sad development was the loss of the tips of her beautiful ears. We knew it would happen, but it just made me sad. Fortunately, animals do not have the neuroses that humans have about their looks! Actually her ears are quite cute. We joked that because she had been eating so many gummy bears, she grew BEAR ears!

Once the IV lines were removed, Suki's doctors realized that she needed to get out of that stall. Daily walks through ICU were initiated, and Suki loved it! When you are a very nosy horse, walks through the hospital are VERY interesting. Since Suki is such a BIG girl, those walks can be sort of like "power walks". I call it her runway walk. Her nickname has always been super model, and it truly suits her, attitude and all!

These walks led to few incidents. Because she hadn't been outside in a long time, someone had the brilliant idea of taking Suki outside for a walk. Ooohhh, they should have asked me first! Without a method of restraint, the big girl took complete advantage! Did I mention that she stood up? The poor vet student who had her out probably was not expecting that! Suki's walks were limited to indoors after that!

One afternoon as I entered ICU for my visit, Dr. H approached me. "Suki has some stitches in her ear", she said. "What happened?" I asked.
"Well, she was taking one of her walks through ICU, when she encountered a calf in the neonatal intensive care unit. Suki panic and reared, whacking her ear on the ceiling". Okay, no one likes to get stitches, but I found this absolutely HILARIOUS!! Suki HATES cows. I remember one time when she was on cross ties while I was grooming her, she heard a cow moo. Each time she heard it she would pop her front legs off the ground. The sound, smell and sight of cows truly offends her!

This is one of the great things about Suki's personality. She is extremely opinionated! Just being able to see that personality in spite of her injuries shows her determination to live!

November 15, 2011
Brief lunge due to increasing darkness. Suki really enjoys working. I am confident that in the spring when she can wear a surcingle we will be able to work in long lines on piaffe and passage. Suki likes to work, and have a job. She also loves to meet people. Is it apparent how much I love her??
Baby Nikki and I are also developing that bond. There is nothing better than the human horse bond. Tonight while I was grooming Suki, I just chattered away about "stuff". She does not judge. She is just happy. The same thing with riding. As soon as I put my foot in the stirrup and swing my leg up onto Nikki, the world is at peace. It is just me and her. It's a passion, a joy a bond. I am grateful to have horses in my life.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Life at New Bolton

Suki continued to progress for awhile without any setbacks. She did become difficult about being caught in her stall for treatments though. This was completely understandable, but needed to be overcome. Suki would allow me to catch her on visits, of course, because all I did was groom her, kiss her and feed her treats. One afternoon I was asked to clip a short lead to her halter. This would make her easier to catch.

About 4 weeks in, Suki developed a fever of unknown origin. She appeared normal, but during the routine vital signs check had indicated an elevated temperature. Concerns of respiratory infection surfaced, so the doctors decided to take Suki for a chest xray. ICU does not have its own radiology department, so it was necessary to walk Suki outside and across campus. With her cloth halter, Suki was difficult to restrain....add to that 17.2 hands and 1400 lbs, and this can be a bit of a challenge. Suki had been quite fit prior to the fire, so 4 weeks in a stall was not easy for her! The nurses managed to get Suki to xray, but ultimately were unable to get a very good film. Then she coughed when they tried to retrieve some nasal fluid, contaminating the sample. Two days later, the fever was gone. We will never know the cause.

Although there was a large amount of charred skin that needed to come off, Suki's doctors felt that it would be better for this to happen naturally, reducing the chance of infection. Little, by little the burned skin fell away, and pink sensitive skin developed in its place. The nurses, vet students and doctors were amazing in their dedication to protect this skin, and save my beautiful girl.

Another concern that developed, was that Suki seemed tired. She would not lie down in her stall. When the IV lines were removed, and the mare and foal stall became vacant, Suki was moved into it, with the hope that the larger stall would entice her to lie down. Suki has always been a sleeper. She likes to lie flat out at night in her stall and take a good snooze. The standing cat naps were not enough for her.
Even with the move, Suki still did not lie down. She tried once, but stood up again immediately. Then one day I noticed her trying to scratch her side with her nose... she lost her balance and stopped, so I took over the scratching. Suki has also always been extremely flexible, but the charred skin on her sides wrinkled when she tried to bend, and that seemed to unnerve her. I realized then, that was why she would not lie down to sleep.

November 13, 2011
At 3 AM I heard sirens...a lot of them... They were in a distance, but it woke me. It felt like my heart stopped...I just lay there waiting for the phone call....thankfully it never came. When will I get over this? I honestly don't think I ever will!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Continued improvement

Two weeks after fire

As the days turned to weeks, Suki continued to improve. Some areas of burned skin were even beginning to heal, with early signs of "peach fuzz"! We were always so excited by these new developments. One day we noticed that her whiskers were growing in, and the day we saw eyelashes everyone squealed with delight!

Suki's mane and tail were also burned, having an almost "melted" appearance. Her entire body smelled like smoke as I hugged her. What was interesting though, was how the area just beneath her mane was completely normal because it had been covered by the longer hair. This only goes down about an inch along the crest of her neck, but it is soft and shiny.

Suki's vision appeared to be normal, but there was some concern regarding her eyelids as the healing progressed. Burned skin contracts as it heals, so the doctors worried that if too much contraction occurred the lids would lose their ability to close completely, requiring reconstructive surgery. Daily eye drops to keep her eyes moist was clearly not an option!

A mare and foal moved into the stall next to Suki in ICU. She became COMPLETELY obsessed with the foal! Every time someone would open her door, Suki would try to stick her head out to get a better look! If the baby talked, Suki responded. It was very sweet!

Cheryl, one of my instructors (and friend) was going to take her take her horse to New Bolton for some diagnostic work so she went over to ICU to see Suki. I will always remember the text that she sent that day: "Oh, Fran". In my mind I could hear the sadness in her voice as she wrote it. Her husband was originally going to go in with her, be he decided against it as they dressed in gowns. He later told me that all of a sudden he realized that he just could not go in there. I completely understood. Seeing a horse in that condition is just so difficult. Two weeks after the fire Michael went in to see Suki. I tried to prepare him for what he would see, and warned the nurses that he might pass out! He had expected much worse, and thought Suki looked pretty good for only two weeks out!

Life fell into a routine of taking Isaiah to preschool, work, and making the 1 1/4 hour drive to New Bolton 4-5 days a week. The human entrance to ICU runs along the back side of the stall area. I noticed when I exited that it was necessary to pass Suki's stall. Because Suki is so tall, she was able to almost see out of the high, frosted window in her stall. I was able to see her head turn in an attempt to see me every time I left ICU.

The nurses told me that Suki would go right to the front of her stall and look in the direction of the door as soon as she heard my voice. Then, of course she would start kicking the stall door until I went in by her. What can I say? The girl knows what she wants! Must be that diva personality!

November 11, 2011
Suki has a new FB friend...she is a special needs girl who participates in therapeutic riding, and has won medals in the special Olympics. During her conversation with Suki, X explained that she had some medical conditions that require a variety of testing, and this is sometimes scary. Here is a piece of the "conversation"

"You are so very brave X! I know that all of this is very scary to you, but it is important that the doctors figure things out to make you feel better. When the doctors were taking care of me I was afraid too. But they made me feel better. When you are afraid, think of me and know that I am thinking about you and giving you BIG horsie hugs!"

"Hi Suki thank you so VERY much :) you made me feel better already i will think about you when i am afraid that will make me smile ♥ You are a VERY smart Horsey I Love you so much ♥ How are you feeling today? i hope good :)"

It always makes my heart smile when I see the joy and hope that Suki can bring to others!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The early days of recovery

The Sunday after the fire Bobbi told me that several people were going to meet at the site of the fire. Because the indoor arena was still intact, temporary stalls were fabricated enabling the horses to come in from the heat of the July sun. I honestly don't know why I even agreed to go over that soon after the fire. Following my morning visit with Suki I drove to the barn.

The one thing that I clearly remember as I got closer was that I began to tremble, then shake uncontrollably. How was I going to get out of the car. When I opened my door, the smell of fire and burned rubble overwhelmed me and my legs actually buckled. Usually I do not react in this way to tragedy, but it struck me so hard. Several people came over and helped me to the barn, where I collapsed into tears (I am not really someone who typically shows that much emotion in public). We spoke for awhile, then Bobbi and I walked to the area where the barn once stood. I remember standing there just staring at the rubble. All that remained of the building was some melted equipment; the barn had burned to the ground. My heart ached as I thought about the fear and pain that Suki had endured. Not a religious person, I still found myself thanking God for the quick thinking firefighter that rescued my horse.

Often when we hear of tragedies and only one or two animals are injured or have died, we are relieved to hear that the number of casualties was not higher. My view has changed since that night, because my horse was the ONE that was critically injured. Now my thoughts go immediately to those associated with the one or two that were injured. While I have never been bitter that Suki was the only horse with such extensive injuries, I do occasionally look at her and ask "why did this happen to you?" As time marches on I realize that Suki has a new purpose and a new mission to help heal and inspire the people around her.

I spoke to many people during those first days and weeks of Suki's stay at New Bolton. Friends and strangers offered support. Dr. Mike Fugaro from Centenary College knew Suki from when she was at Heather Mason's for training at various times and had some experience with burned horses. We spoke about her current condition, the changes that would occur in her skin, and our hope for the future. He was an invaluable source of knowledge and support.

Suki's attitude and appetite remained intact. That is one tough girl! This is most certainly due to the phenomenal pain-management regimen that was used. When a horse is in pain of any kind they typically stop eating. Suki would walk around her stall with all of her IV tubing, and kick at the door for treats! Watching her behave like the diva that she is always gave me confidence that I had made the right decision!

The burned areas of skin began to slough off and her skin was cleaned followed by the application of a thick layer of SSD. We needed to keep the skin from drying, and prevent infection. But some areas of her skin were quite sensitive to the touch, so when extensive wound cleaning needed to be performed, Suki was sedated.

November 8, 2011
The bruising has pretty much resolved, so I am pleased. Suki received her full spa treatment, which she seemed to really enjoy. She had some pretty itchy spots, which she points to with her nose so that I can get them.
I also had a lovely ride on Nikki.
The book will contain more detail, as I continue to interview people and read through Suki's medical records.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Suki continued to improve each day. There was some difficulty administering oral medication....Suki is like a cat. She can eat around all of her meds, leaving a pile of powder in the bottom of the feed tub! One of her favorite treats is gummy bears, so the medication was mixed with applesauce and gummy bears. Success!

The IV tubing was hung from the ceiling in her stall with swivels, allowing Suki to move around freely. She was given several bags of plasma during those first few days, which made a huge difference in her recovery.

Each day Suki's eyes were open a little more, as the swelling in her face continued to decrease. The ulcers were healing well, and we began to notice that she was able to see a little bit.

I worked my visits into my daily routine, initially driving the hour plus to Kennett square 5 days a week. With a 3 year-old, a craeer and a husband who travelled, this was not always easy, but for me, it was extremely important that I have an active role in her recovery process. Each time I arrived, Suki would nicker in response to my greeeting. I believe that she anticipated my visits and maybe even looked forward to them. Initially I would just stand in the stall with her, grooming whatever hair I could find. The charred skin began to fall away, revealing fresh, pink, sensitive skin beneath it.

The staff in ICU was amazing. They would give me a report about her condition, and behavior. The doctors would provide the medical update. After about a week, the ulcers in Suki's eyes were healed. This was certainly attributed to the determination of the staff to medicate her eyes four times a day! What amazed me (and everyone else!) was that her vision seemed fine. Without the devotion of the staff, I do not think this would have been possible.

November 8, 2011
Sorry for the short post today....it is getting late and Isaiah needs to go to bed! I had a lovely ride on Nikki today!
The bruising on Suki's skin graft area has greatly improved, and she really enjoyed her grooming today!
Longer post tomorrow!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Restless Night

I arrived home from New Bolton and picked up Isaiah from preschool. A toddler forces you to wear a brave face and act normal. It felt wonderful to wrap my arms around him!

Michael returned home later that evening, so I was finally able to just collapse. It's funny, though. I never asked him to try to get home early, and sometimes get angry that he didn't just think to do that! Maybe I didn't act hysterical on the phone or make it seem as bad as it actually was....I still don't know.

As anyone can imagine, my sleep was not restful. I tossed and turned for a good part of the night, willing the phone not to ring. Thankfully, it never did. The first thing I did when I opened my eyes Saturday morning was cry. I was probably expecting to wake up and realize that the fire and Suki's injuries were just a terrible nightmare. But cruel reality set in. I called the hospital and spoke to Dr. Michele Harris, the resident working on the case. Suki was stable overnight, but she warned me that while this was a very good sign, we were far from certain survival.

Five minutes later I was on my way to New Bolton again. One of Suki's favorite treats is gummy bears, so I was sure to bring them along. This time when I entered reception, X immediately smiled and said "Wait until you see her! She looks so much better today!" I breathed a sigh of relief! ICU was alerted of my arrival "Suki's mom is here," said X. That is when you know that you are at a place where everyone REALLY understands how you feel about your horse!

When I entered ICU, Suki nickered and rushed to the front of her stall when she heard my voice. X was right. Suki DID look better. She was brighter, and the swelling on her face had reduced enough to see tiny slits of her eyes. Once again she hungrily accepted her treats....the gummy bears!

The team was pleased with Suki's condition over night and were able to perform an eye exam due to the reduction in swelling. As suspected, both eyes had been badly burned and were ulcerated. This would require eye ointment 4 times a day. Not an easy task on a 17.2h horse who was unable to wear a regular halter! They had fashioned a halter from rope padded with gauze and adhesive tape, but because of the extent of the burns on her head Suki could not be fully restrained. Her doctors did not like the idea of sedating her 4 times a day, but that eye ointment needed to be applied if we were going to save her vision.

Suki's appetite was good, and she happily accepted her hay and grain. A few times during the night her pain medication had been adjusted, signalled by changes in her vital signs. Overall, she was in suprisingly good spirits, banging her stall for more treats and behaving like the diva that she was. Her nickname of "super model" was well earned! Because she couldn't see, Suki would swing her head around in response to voices. That certainly quickens the reflexes!

My good friend Beth met me at New Bolton that second day. Again, the emotional support was greatly appreciated.

Those first days, most of my visit was spent just standing in Suki's stall and talking to her. In my mind, she needed to know that I was with her 100% of the way. My frequent tributes, according to veterinarians, made a tremendous impact on her recovery. I always found it difficult to leave, reassuring Suki that I would return the next day.

November 7, 2011
The bruising looks better today, so I am continuing with the extra padding. Suki's coat is a beautiful shiny copper.....she exudes good health!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

First day in ICU

The first thing that I saw when I entered the ICU at New Bolton was my beloved girl, swollen and slathered in SSD. silver sulfadiazene. It is thick white ointment used to treat burns...in humans as well. Suki's entire face had been burned and her eyes swollen shut. Nothing prepares you for something like this. I honestly don't know if it was better or worse than what I had expected. Those who saw Suki before she went to New Bolton said that it was probably a good thing that I didn't see her until after her initial treatment. My heart ached for her. I couldn't get out of my mind how frightened she must have been. "Suki", I called. I was rewarded with a soft, low nicker. That lovely rumbly sound which horses make in recognition. My heart melted. I felt as if she was saying "FINALLY you are here!" That response convinced me that the she had not given up and was ready for the fight of her life.

Suki was surrounded by several doctors, nurses and students. I went into the stall and she sniffed me all over looking for treats. When I offered her a small piece of carrot she hungrily accepted it. Suki had not lost her appetite either!
There were several IV bags flowing into Suki's veins. Some were fluids for dehydration, others contained analgesics. She also wore a Fentanyl patch on her leg for pain. Suki's feet had bags of ice tied around her feet to prevent laminitis. But she was nuzzling and sniffing me and that gave me hope.

Dr. Kalf explained Suki's condition. In addition to the severe external burns, her nasal passages had been burned and were now swollen. It was important to keep the external airways open as well. If there was too much swelling a tracheotomy would need to be performed. Dr. Kalf warned that it could be awhile before we knew the full extent of airway damage. Suki's eyes were also badly burned and swollen. At that point it was impossible to assess how much damage there was, but it was very likely that there were ulcers on her corneas, and ultimately there could be some level of vision loss. We also discussed complications such as pneumonia, infections, etc. The first 48 hours were crucial, but even beyond that point she could develop one of the complications and deteriorate. It was vital that she eat, because every bit of nutrition would be needed to heal from such severe burns. Horses can lose a lot of weight recovering from such extensive burns because of the high rate of metabolism during healing. There was a scale outside her stall....Suki weighed 1460 lbs on her way into New Bolton. I became very aware of that scale.... standing outside of her stall meant that you were also standing on that scale!!

Suki's skin would also see many changes. More than 70% of her body was charred, and all of that dead skin needed to slough off. It was also apparent that Suki would lose the tips of her ears eventually. They were blackened and cold. The one positive was that she had been in excellent physical condition and seemed in surprisingly good spirits! I held on to the positives.

I am certain that I was in shock. When I think about it, although at some level I knew the seriousness of Suki's condition, I also just assumed that she would survive. Was it our bond? I don't know. But we weren't going down without a fight!

One thing that struck as funny was when the surgical team evaluated a small laceration on Suki.s right front leg, that she probably incurred during her romp through the Oley Valley. There were several additional veterinarians surrounding her and discussing closing the wound. Here she was charred and swollen, and they were discussing this tiny wound! Now, please don't misunderstand. This type of attention is what led to Suki's recovery, so i am thrilled that they even saw it! Just seemed somewhat ironic, I guess.

My friend Babette, who lives in Unionville, called and asked if I wanted her to come over to New Bolton. I was so grateful for her and Donna's company.

Suki would be monitored around the clock, with vital signs checked every few hours. Any changes could prompt additional medications to maintain her comfort. Several bags of plasma were also given. I knew that Suki was in the best place possible, but it was really difficult to leave her. The veterinarians assured me that they would call if her condition changed. I went home to prepare for a restless night.........

Nov 5, 2011
When I arrived at the barn Suki was still in her field. She decided to canter away in the other direction. It was a beautiful, relaxed canter. I wished that I was sitting on her....
If you look at Suki physically, it is amazing that her muscling and top line are still somewhat normal, not like a horse who has been out of work for more than 2 years!

Unfortunately my decision to leave her without a bandage was premature. While the graft did not open, her rolling caused some bruising, even with her special sheet and her mid weight sheet. The extra padding is still necessary.

Can't wait to ride Nikki on Tuesday!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Suki's Arrival

I spoke to the shippers on the final layover in Ontario. Due to the heat of summer they would travel in the late night, arriving in Unionville, PA around 11 AM the next day. Suki had travelled very well, they told me, and that I would be really pleased with her condition.

That night, I barely slept, planning my arrival at the barn for 10 AM. Michael and my friend Beth accompanied me. When I arrived at the farm, one of the boarders said "Hey Fran, have you seen your new girl?"
"Suki is here already?!" "She wasn't expected until 11?" I ran to the upper barn to see her...or "sprinted like a jack rabbit" according to Beth. I walked up to the stall and Suki nickered to me. It was love at first sight (for both of us)! When I entered her stall she nuzzled me and I hugged my VERY TALL girl. At age 3, she was already nearing 17 hands!

Because the driveway into the farm is narrow and curved, the tractor trailer was not able to drive in. Suki was unloaded at the bottom of the driveway on a quiet country road and led up the hill to the farm. They said she was looking around but was very quiet during her walk. Even when I took her out of the stall that day, she was tired but grazed quietly. And the shipper was right: her condition was amazing. Suki appeared to be in good weight, and not dehydrated. We would monitor her temperature and look for any signs of "shipping fever" for the next week. But of course, hardy girl that she is, Suki remained in perfect health.

I feel like we bonded instantly. Suki trusted me completely and didn't seem to mind when I put a sheet on her for the first time, attached her to cross ties, etc. The first time we set her out in the pasture, Suki was led around the perimeter so that she could see where the fence line was. It was a quiet walk. When she was let loose she walked and trotted a bit then quietly grazed.

Giving her some time to recover from her trip, I started to work her in the round pen to get ready for my first ride. For about 2 weeks I lunged Suki in the round pen, first without a saddle, then in full tack. She was delightful! Beautiful floaty gaits and sweet personality.

Michael helped me the first day that I sat on Suki. Now, my husband really doesn't have any horse experience other than holding horses for me at shows, carrying supplies and driving the trailer. But he is a REALY good sport. In fact, he was the first person to lay across the back of my first dressage horse, Jenny, when I started her under saddle! I brought Suki into the round pen and used the lunge line just in case.... I can remember that first trot....it was pure heaven. Light and floating! I felt like I had been waiting for that feeling my whole life!

After a few weeks in the round pen without the lunge line we went into the indoor for the first time. Sometimes horses are startled by the mirrors the first time they see them so M, one of the trainers told me to just bring her in and hand walk her. This way she could just look at everything without a rider. Suki was not fazed by the mirrors at all. In fact, she was so quiet, that M said "I think you should just get on. Follow one of the other horses around since she doesn't have any stearing yet." Once again, Suki was a star! We walked around the indoor for awhile, practiced some stearing, and rewarded Suki with pats, hugs and treats!

Tomorrow: Seeing Suki for the first time after the fire

Suki was a bit restless again yesterday. She remains obsessed by the ponies in the field across from her. Eventually she settled down and I was able to groom, exfoliate and check the skin graft area. It looks great! The right side of her neck which does not have a full thickness of hair on it seems to be getting a bit dry again, even with daily moisturizing. I will start to use the Aardora ointment to see if that helps. Otherwise we will switch to Elta again for the winter.

This morning, of course Suki was happy to see me. Everything was in order, and I am sure that by now she is outside enjoying the sunshine. She was out with Mosby yesterday....I think Chester is terrified of her!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I knew I loved you before I met you

I so clearly remember the first time I saw Suki. The search for a young dressage prospect is not easy. My husband and I had viewed probably close to a hundred videos of 2, 3 and 4 year old warmbloods, looking for one with potential. This was more than 8 years ago, when you tube and downloading videos were not available. So we would wait for videso to arrive in the mail. Several would descend upon our mailbox every week. We were sure that our mailman suspected we were receiving porn videos!

There were some nice horses in these videos, but none of them had what I was looking for. Since many of them had not yet been started under saddle, the videos primarily consisted of horses being chased around or, in some cases being properly "free-schooled" so that their gaits(walk, trot and canter) could be seen.

I had been ill with the flu when one batch arrived, but as I felt better, decided to watch some of them. I opened an envelope from Capriole Farm in BC, Canada. The note enclosed explained that the horse was Amiritta, a 3 year old Premium Oldenburg mare. Oldenburg is a warmblood breed typically consisting of Dutch Warmblood and Oldenburg blood lines. The horses are inspected and rated, usually at 3 months of age. Premium is the highest rating, and Amiritta (Suki) had scored the highest of all of the foals that day. This video was taken during the inspection, or Keuring, while still by her mother's side. If I liked what I saw, the owner would make a current video and send it to me.

The MOMENT that video started a squealed with delight! Amiritta, already pretty tall at age 3 months, trotted and cantered alongside her Mama. Chestnut, with 4 white socks and a blaze, with lovely floaty gaits....I was in love! I immediately emailed Kitty Storm, the farm owner and requested an updated video. When that video arrived I could barely wait for it to start! And wow, was I thrilled. From the very first trot steps of the video, I was hooked! The beautiful chestnut mare floated before my eyes up on the screen. I had found my horse!

Now, when you are working with a trainer, it is important that they see the prospect and help you decide. My trainer worked with a veterinarian whom she trusted immensely and told me to send the video to him (she was out of the country at the time). This veterinarian had extensive experience with dressage horses and visited the farm from a distant state several times a year to look at our horses. Dr. X called me as soon as he watched the video. "Buy her", he said, "Or I have several other clients who would be interested"

Because Amiritta had not been started under saddle yet, I could not give her a "test ride" before the purchase. So yes, I bought her off the video. A pre-purchase exam was performed, and the veterinarian in Canada spoke to my veterinarian. All was good, and the sale was finalized.

During this time I had been reading an Abigail Adams biography. One of her daughters' names was Susannah, with the nickname of Suki. I thought it would be a good barn name for Amiritta. While speaking to Kitty I asked if Amiritta had a barn name yet. When she said no, I requested that they start calling her "Suki", and so they did. That was in May of 2003, but Suki would not arrive until Later in the summer. In lieu of price negotiation Suki would be started lightly under saddle before coming home to me.

Arrangements were made for Suki to make the week-long trip from BC to Pennsylvania. She would travel in an air-ride tractor trailer, in a box stall, so that she could move about and raise and lower her head. I thought this would be the best way for her to travel, as she had not been on a trailer before.

The trailer would make several over night stops during its journey and the horses would be unloaded and stabled over night. I spoke to the shippers daily, checking on her as she travelled.

Tomorrow: Suki's arrival

November 2, 2011: Suki had a lovely day out in the pasture today. She was a little antsy while I was performing her "spa treatment", probably because the farrier was there and horses were being shifted around a lot.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The story continues....

Throughout that night, I paced and waited. The call finally came at close to 3 AM. It was Bobbi. "They have been found", she said. "How are they?" I asked. "Oh, Fran, Suki is hurt pretty badly", replied Bobbi, and she started to cry. "Whisby, seems ok." "Does Suki need to be put down, Bobbi? Please tell me the truth!" I pleaded. "I don't know Fran. Dr. X is looking at her now."
The two horses had been found several miles from the barn, standing side by side in a field. A veterinarian examined them, and someone went to get a trailer.

I spoke to Dr. X next. "How is she?" I asked. "Does she need to be put down?". I kept asking people this for two reasons. Whatever was best for Suki, needed to be done. I did not want her to suffer. But I also wanted someone to reassure me and tell me that she would be OK. No one would commit answers to these questions. Dr. X told me that Suki was badly burned and would need to go to New Bolton Center (the large animal hospital associated with the University of Pennsylvania vet school). Stories that came back from that night included a couple who was driving and saw two horses, a chestnut and a bay run across the road...Suki was the bay. Her chestnut coat was burned so badly that she appeared bay...
Again my hands were tied. How would I get Suki to New Bolton. Fortunately my wonderful friend Bobbi and her husband offered to drive Suki to New Bolten, over an hour away. They first dropped off Whisby at another barn, then made the journey to Kennett Square. There are simply no words to describe how grateful I was. Bobbi selflessly left her own horse at a strange barn to do this for my horse.

So the waiting began again. At some point I dozed off and was awakened by my cell phone. 5AM: Dr. Kelly Kalf, the admitting veterinarian had evaluated Suki. "Please tell me....how bad is she? Does she need to be put down?" Why do we always ask questions whose answers we really do not want to know! "She is stable", Dr. Kalf told me. "Let's see how she does." She gave me a few details, but I honestly do not remember what she said during that call.

At 7:00 AM I dropped off my son at preschool. Ordinarily Isaiah only attended school for a half day on Fridays, but I asked if he could stay the entire day, not knowing if I would be home by noon to take him home.

My friend D called and offered to go with me, because she thought it would be better for me not to go alone. Thank goodness for good friends!

The drive seemed to take an eternity, yet I dreaded going into the hospital. Upon our arrival, we entered the reception area. "I am here to see my horse Suki", I said to the receptionist. "She was in a fire." Then I began to cry. The receptionist came out from behind the desk and wrapped her arms around me. It was the warmest, most genuine gesture, and I needed it desparately. X told us that Suki was in ICU and telephoned the unit to tell them that I had arrived. "Someone will be over shortly to bring you over", she said.

I could feel myself beginning to shake as we made our way to the ICU. Donning protective gowns and booties I was led in to see Suki for the first time since the fire......

To be continued.....

Suki had a lovely roll in the mud yesterday! Fortunately she was wearing a full sheet and only managed to get some mud on her neck and legs. Skin graft area totally intact. It has healed beautifully. Just need to make sure that the skin is tough enough for rolling before we eliminate the special protective garment from under her other clothing.

This morning she was a happy girl, but anxious to get out!

I am trying to find additional ways to get her involved with other human groups to offer horse/human therapy. Suki seems to really inspire everyone she meets!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


The inferno

I have decided that each day I will start the post with a little bit of history. Readers can get a bit of the back story, and it will help as I continue to organize my thoughts while writing the book. Midnight, July 9, 2009: I am awakened by the ringing of my cell phone. As we all know, rarely does a midnight call bring good news. This time was no exception. "Hi Bobbi", I answered from caller ID. "Is everything okay?" Now we all know what a stupid question that is. Your fellow boarder is calling you in the middle of the night, so obviously something is very wrong. That never stops us from asking this question though, does it? "No", she replied. "The barn is on fire and they can't find our horses!" Bobbi did not know any other details, but she and her husband were going to the barn to search for the horses. With my then 3 year-old son Isaiah asleep in the next room, and my husband away on business, my only option was to stay home and wait. Volunteers from around the area went out in the dark of night to search. I would hear many stories later....a horse was seen coming out of the barn on fire, with its eyes melted shut. Unfortunately this was not much of an exaggeration of Suki's condition. And it breaks my heart to think about it. In fact I am teary just writing it... Suki, Whisby (Bobbi's big chestnut dressage horse) and two other horses were the only horses in the barn on that summer night. The rest of the horses were on night turnout to escape the heat and bugs of the day. Suki did not like to be out for extended periods, so her turnout was early morning for a couple of hours. Ironically, she now goes out over night during the summer. More than 120 firefighters from five fire companies answered the call as the inferno lit the sky. At home I paced the house, waiting for a telephone call telling me that my horse was safe and unharmed. Deep in my heart I knew that this was not likely the case, but held on to that hope anyway. I tried repeatedly to reach my husband, who is notorious for turning off his phone....lesson learned.... the next day he asked "Did you really call me 59 times?". "Probably", I replied. I called my sister Debi a few times and she of course tried to assure me that Suki would be OK. I also sent a text to my trainer, Heather Mason, so that she would see it in the morning. Heather answered the text immediately. She was another lifeline throughout the night. Heather told me later that she always has her phone near. "The horses.", she said. "I always need to know what's going on." More tomorrow.... So Suki is a little grumpy because she has been stuck inside due to weather and now VERY muddy fields and paddocks. But she cracks me up! Her personality is hilarious. She is such a diva, and LOVES attention. Hopefully she will go out today. I go to the barn every morning to check her protective garment and now of course a sheet or blanket that is on top. Every morning I am greeted with a soft nicker, which is delightful! Baby Nikki is also developing quite the personality. My third mare and my third diva. Hmmmmm.....