Tuesday, January 31, 2012

July-early August 2011

Lori had arranged to have Suki visit a burn survivor camp for children at the end of June. Her son had attended the camp for a few years,so Lori was well acquainted with the directors and administrative staff. Lori had also been in contact with owners and veterinarians of dogs and cats that had also been burned in fires. These animals would not be in attendance, so posters and a scrap book were put together to introduce the 4-legged burn survivors. I also put a book together with articles and photographs of Suki's progress. Lori warned me that the children at the camp were in various stages of treatment and recovery, with many of them being quite disfigured. I knew that would be difficult, but I was also feeling very upbeat about how they would respond to Suki. Suki has an amazing effect on everyone she meets. While many people are startled by the extent of her injuries, others are amazed by how much improvement she has made compared to the early photographs. My nervousness about the trip had more to do with the area where would secure Suki for th visit. This would be the last day of camp, which was held at someone's private home, rather than at the camp itself. The last day was a pool party and barbecue for the kids. We would be the afternoon entertainment. Initially, the owner of the property had said that there was a nice shaded area that would be perfect for the visit, keeping everyone out of the sun. In my mind I was thinking there was an enclosed area for safety. However, although the designated shade tree was far from the road, it was not fenced at all. After further discussion we found out that there was a barn and paddocks on the property that the owner leased to someone else. We decided that the barn would be the best place for the visit because Suki would probably feel more secure, and so would I. The one little glitch was that there was a bit of a walk from where we would park the trailer to the barn. More anxiety for me! When the day came for the camp trip I think we were ready. I had organized everything the day before including sedation for Suki. Although I knew that it would take awhile to get her on the trailer I was confident that she would load. We allowed two hours for this, and I had asked a horse person friend to help and to come along for help on the other end, for the trip home. It was going to a warm day, but not horrible heat. I was also doing the driving this time, but as I had resigned myself to this I was not OVERLY nervous, as the roads that we would be travelling were familiar to me. So, we started the process. I injected Suki with the tranquilizer and we waited for it to take effect. She was wearing her fancy "public appearance" halter and was groomed and shiny. I put the lead rope and Suki and confidently walked out of the barn and up the ramp of the trailer....well, almost. Suki walked almost all the way onto the trailer then changed her mind. It was like she realized what she was doing and said "wait! I hate getting on the trailer!", and off she came. Oh well. So close. We turned around and tried again. Now that she was in tune to what we were trying to do, Suki decided that she wouldnt even look at the trailer. Or go near it. At all. We tried every method, including some of the more forceful methods, to no avail. We were close a few times. At that point I said to Lori: "When she gets on, we are not unloading her at the camp. The kids can visit her through the front door." We were all in agreement over that one. Eventually it became evident that we were not going to make it to camp. I was devastated. My main concern was that the children would be disappointed. I thought that it was such a wonderful opportunity for Suki to help people and make children smile. The director, in her infinite wisdom had not alerted the children to Suki's visit, just in case something happened and we were not able to attend. We probably should have made the decision earlier, then we could have gone out to the camp and just spoke to the children and showed them the books. Certainly it would have made less of an impact. We tried for awhile longer to get Suki on the trailer with no success. I put her back in the stall and sent everyone home, profusely apologizing for their wasted day. I unloaded all of the equipment and supplies, drank a cold bottle of water and brought Suki back out. 15 minutes later she was standing on the trailer.....I love my horse, I love my horse, I love my horse!! But boy, did I want to kill her at that moment! A lesson learned. I hope that would help us in the future. With plans to work with Suki and trailer loading over the next few months, I hugged Suki and went home. I love this picture of Suki from early August 2011. She looks the picture of good health (although maybe a little fat from that lush summer grass!)
And this is a close up of some of the plugs...Look at that hair! I told Dr. Fugaro he should consider performing hair restoration!
January 31, 2012: It was 23 degrees this morning but the temperature was to rise into the 50's. So after I dropped Isaiah off at school, I changed Suki from a blanket to a sheet. These temperatures are driving me crazy! Then I had a lovely ride on Nikki at lunch today. She is such a delight to ride. Tomorrow I have to leave for a conference in San Francisco so I will not be able to ride until Sunday. I love when I walk in the barn and call Hello Baby Girl!" She nickers furiously for me to come over to her. Nikki's voice is much deeper than Suki's. It is louder also compared to Suki's low rumble. I love that they have such distinct voices to welcome me.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A little bit of background

As a child, I regularly begged my parents for riding lessons. As part of a non-horsey family this became a nearly impossible task. Growing up in northern New Jersey just outside Manhattan, there were a number of places to take riding lessons, but they were not immediately apparent to the non-horsey set. At age 5 I began ballet, and by age 8 was performing with local ballet companies. Still I continued to ask for riding lessons, as did my older sister. I do remember going with Debi and my father and watching her ride. It wasn't lessons, but an hour rental to ride around a ring. She would also occasionally go on trail rides at a local park when she was a little older. Debi had a lot of Breyer horses which I used to gallop around when she wasn't home. This resulted in broken legs that my father was constantly repairing. In the years that followed I continued with ballet 6 days a week and added gymnastics to the mix. Still no riding lessons. Cheerleading, French Horn, school plays, etc. Then FINALLY when I was 15 my father came home and said that he had signed me up for riding lessons. This did not make my mother very happy. I think she just was completely opposed to the idea, concerned that it would take time away from ballet. Since my parents didn't know anything about horses or riding,my father selected a small riding center that he passed on his way home from work. Reinbow's End Horse Farm,a hunter/jumper barn in Paramus, NJ. This was a lucky find. While the barns were somewhat rundown, the horses seemed fine, at least to my novice eye. There were school horses and boarders two riding arenas and access to trails. I remember my first lesson as clearly as if it were yesterday. Rima, my instructor, tacked up Louis, a cute little bay horse while I watched. When we went out to the ring I was taught how to mount. My stirrups were then taken away, and there were no reins. For the first few weeks I would be on a lunge line without reins and stirrups to develop a seat. Only then would I be allowed to have reins. While at age 15 I was a bit insulted by the whole lunge line ordeal, years later I realized that this was the best way to learn how to ride. I am grateful to this day for that start. I rode at several different barns over the next few years, riding and showing owners horses. It was a great opportunity to learn to ride different types of horses. Then between high school and college I was exposed to warmbloods, dressage and evennting for the first time as a working student in Pennsylvania. My knowledge continued to expand, and I started to gravitate toward eventing. Following the position as a working student I worked at a small breeding farm, learning how to start young horses. College slowed down the riding a little bit, although as an undergraduate student I helped establish a riding club that included weekly lessons at a hunter barn. A brief move to Texas got me involved in eventing again, and I began to really enjoy the intricacies of dressage. By the time my husband and I moved back to New Jersey a year later, I was fully hooked on riding again! I started to ride regularly again during graduate school, purchasing a two year old Dutch Warmblood/appaloosa filly (Jenny)whom I hoped to event. I worked with a great trainer who rode for the Bermuda event team. She was tough and no nonsense, but my hard work was rewarded with the opportunity to ride many horses. Jenny was not overly fond of jumping, so I began to focus on dressage....and became completely hooked! This is Jenny's last show before she was retired due to a chronic injury.
I boarded her at a farm near Suki where she lived sadly only 6 more years, to age 20. I had to have her put down in June 2008 due to strangulating lipomas of the gut. Surgery had been an option, but with her age and potential for recurrence and a rough recovery I decided not to do it. Jenny gave me everything she had and was a wonderful girl. While harder for me, it seemed kinder to have her put down. She was buried on that farm in the big hilly field that she loved. January 29, 2012 Suki has been super muddy the past few day, which is understandable having been for two days prior. Tonight she had a cut on her head over her left eye. It's in the area where there is little hair growth and i think that skin is just not as tough. It certainly seems thinner than the normal skin. Now the areas on her back and sides that only have a small amount of hair appears to be very thick, and she does not have any problems. The skin around the eyes is more delicate under normal conditions, so perhaps it is just more noticeable because of the lack of hair. This time of year the moisturizing is extremely important because the skin, especially on the right side of her neck gets very dry. Nikki has been a delight to ride for the past couple of days, which having not ridden in a week due to illness was especially nice!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Success at last! (June-July 2011)

I would like to start this post with a big thank you to everyone reading this blog. I love looking at the stats each day to see where the readers are located. And like yesterday's post title states "we've gone global!". I am amazed, thrilled and grateful to everyone in my home country and beyond who has shown an interest in Suki's story! So thank you. With the help of Mr. X of My Pet's Brace and Lori and myself, we were finally able to tweak the protective garment. Of course, me being the worrier that I am, was still uncertain about Suki wearing it during unsupervised turnout. My concerns primarily surrounded the twisting of the sheet resulting in Suki becoming tangled....So we started with Suki wearing it in her stall during the heat of the day, then wearing the sleazy at night. Even with the special protective sheet, a bandage would still be required. At least for now. So here it is! And I apologize for not taking a photo of this when it was brand new. But a muddy picture is better than none at all! I'll have to see if Lori has one.
The original draft did not have the piece of fabric from the chest piece running beteen the front legs and connecting to the belly strap. Prior to adding that strap the sheet shifted back slightly during running, jumping and rolling....Suki's all time favorite activities during turnout! So as we continued through the weeks, the wound FINALLY began to actually heal. This photo was prior to using the sheet regularly.
And just a 10 days later! We were finally getting some where! Even when Suki performed one of her particularly exhuberant rolls, including a complete rollover onto her back, scratching it like a dog (when our Weimaraner does this we call him pretzel boy), the bandage was not affected and the wound beneath it perfect!
At this point, some of the plugs are still apparent, but some have epithelialized enough to appear like a sheet of skin. This really was a huge milestone, and I finally started to feel a sense of relief. I was beginning to think that Suki and I would be dealing with this wound forever! Not that I still wasn't constantly worrying, of course. But the new sheet really seemed to do the job. Even on the hottest days, Suki would just sweat slightly beneath the fabric. In her stall during the heat of the day, Suki had a fan bloeing on her. She was also checked midday, and if she seemed warm, was given a cool shower and the sheet put back in place. There was a lot of extra care required, but I had a few people helping me with this to ease the burden and ensure Suki's comfort! On the cool evenings I lunged Suki to keep her active and her mind engaged. Overnight turnouts worked well for her. We just kept plugging along.... During the hottest week of July, I brought Nikki with the Valley Mist Farm contingency to a horse show. She would stay there for the week, and be shown one or two days in the hunter show. The main goal was to get her off the farm and expose her to a show situation. She was completely unfazed except for the water truck, which spewed water from both ends! But she was such a good girl....really seemed quite comfortable with the change of scenery.
On the way home we blew a tire on the trailer...Thank you heavens above for the inventor of Trailer Aid...we were able to change the tire without unloading a 4 year old! While I was away I was contacted by Fox News about doing a story about Suki. They liked the connection to human therapy, which was something I continued to build upon. The piece with Fox did not come about , although I am still in contact with the correspondent. I think that it is important to continue training and working with additional burn survivors, so that we would be able to develop a real program. The first opportunity was an invitation to visit a children's burn survivor camp less than an hour from home. January 27, 2012 Rainy, windy day today. No turnout for the girls. Nikki was ridden, but Suki was stuck in her stall. After grooming and moisturizing, Suki seemed happier. The temperatures have fluctuated greatly, so I find that I am often changing blankets and sheets to accomodate the weather. The girls need to be comfortable after all!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

We've gone global!

Following the release of the Star Ledger piece, I was contacted by the Associated Press requesting an interview with me and meet Suki. Like the Star Ledger, there would be a video piece as well as a written article. Both would be circulated globally. I was also contacted by our local newspaper, The Reading Eagle. They had heard that the Associated Press was interested in interviewing me and they wanted to get an article out first. That made me laugh... I mean I love my horse and know that she has a story to tell. But it just seemed funny that the local paper did not want to be "scooped" by the AP. A writer and photographer from the Eagle came out in May, and wrote a very nice piece about Suki. Lori was also there, because I wanted the connection to human burn survivors included. I had also requested that the farm owner and barn manager be present. The fire was local news, of course, and most people in the area remembered the fire and were, indeed, curious about what had happened to the critically injured horse. At the end of June, 2011, following a conference for me and a week at the beach with the family, two journalists and a photographer and videographer came out to the farm to meet us. I had planned poorly, so Lori wasn't there and she should have been. The AP wanted to see a typical day for Suki. So I groomed, exfoliated, moisturized and lunged Suki. The person writing the print article interviewed me. I also referred her to Lori, Mike Fugaro Kelly, and New Bolton. It was important to me that the story was complete, and I knew that I was only capable of relaying a small portion of the story. I think that was when I realized that to effectively write a book, I would need to interview many people! Overall I was really pleased with the finished product from the AP, and actually learned a few things. Dr. Michelle Harris, the resident who first saw Suki at New Bolton described the scene upon opening the trailer....She said that the entire trailer smelled like there was a fire inside. Burn survivor Bill, who also spoke to the AP, provided a moving memory of his experience meeting Suki, and how he was almost drawn to tears. http://news.yahoo.com/recovery-burned-pa-horse-offers-hope-humans-095426089.html I was really nervous about the article being published. I wanted it to be received well, and the very vain side of me was concerned about how I appeared on the video. Growing up in North Jersey sometimes I speak really fast! I have shed the accent (or never actually had it) but the fast forward manner remains as a significant part of my personality. The piece included the link to Suki's Facebook page, which at the time had approximately 400 fans. When the article was published we watched the numbers swell to over 2000, in just 48 hours. I was amazed (and yes, thrilled!) But the funniest thing that happened was when my niece texted my husband: "Fran's on Yahoo!" Yes, I took a picture
The response to the article was really quite phenomenal, but some of the comments, not so pretty. That hurt a bit, but well, you can't please everyone. I stand by the decision that I made....to save my horse. It was not cruel. I was prepared to euthanize her if necessary. But Suki showed her strength and determination to live and thrive. But you know all of that.....and look where we are. Friends Googled the article and it showed hits from around the world. I wondered about the response, but then realized...everyone likes a happy ending. But the story continues. And the bigger picture was to get that wound healed, get Suki back to work, and inspire and help others.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Healing difficulties again (June 2011)

Suki was becoming a bit difficult to handle with all of her time spent inside, so we decided to turn her out again. I was still very nervous about the pontoon sheet unsupervised, so we went with the bandage and the sleezy. This, of course, led to ups and downs of wound healing. It was harder to endure because of the investment of all of the people at Centenary involved in the skin graft. We continued with Suki checks twice a day and tried to keep her from getting too itchy. That was a big part of the problem. As the healing continued and the area became more itchier, Suki's rolling became more agressive.
A week later, there was a bit of improvement
The rollercoaster of healing was simply not acceptable. As the warmer weather approached Suki would soon be turned out over night and staying in during the day. The fly sheet was not good protection of the wound. Although the sleazy was slighty better, it would be too warm for summer. The owner of the company My Pet's Brace, visited Lori's small animal veterinary hospital to discuss casting, dog/cat prosthetics, braces, etc. Lori explained Suki's situation, and although he had never worked on a horse before he was willing to give it a try. He came out to see Suki and dtermine the best type of protective garment. Lori and I explained that the garment needed to be light weight and breathable to reduce sweating and overheating, but the saddle area of her back with the graft site needed to be well protected from rolling and scratching. Mr.x took measurements, made sketches and we set up another appointment to further determine Suki's needs. The next time Mr X came out he had a garment for a first fitting. It was made from the breathable fabric that is used to cover the area that rests against a prosthesis. The fabric was strong and breathable. The sheet itself was an abbreviated version of a regular horse sheet, to further cut down on over hreating. The strapping needed to be tweaked, but it was a great first draft. To cover the graft site, Mr. X heat-formed a 1 inch thick, porous material that would harden to the shape of Suki's back. It is about the size of a racing saddle. This would fit into a pocket on the sheet, which would prevent the wound from coming into contact with the ground....that was the theory... During this time Nikki continued to thrive. I rode her 3-4 times a week, working on her dressage and Meaghan rode her 1-2 times per week over fences. Nikki seemed to enjoy jumping and it was helping her dressage. Meaghan, in turn, said that she couldn't believe how much basic dressage training makes it easier to teach a baby how to jump. Nikki was honest over fences and the varied routine kept her young brain happy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Barn Fires

There seem to be a lot of barn fires lately. I read about one in Barrett Township Pennsylvania that killed all nine horses, chickens and a pig. January 20, 2012: A barn fire in Sussex County New Jersey. All 22 horses perished in the fire. In June, Boyd Martin's barn in Chester County, PA caught fire and several horses were lost. August 2011, Dutch Mills Farm in Washington.....Reading about these barn fires sickens me. I think about the horses (and other animals) and their humans. Such tragedy. The causes are varied. Arson, hay, electrical, unknown. How can we prevent them? What can we do to make our horses safe. So many comments in response to these articles place the blame on the barn owners regarding lack of sprinkler systems, fire alarms, hay storage and a general plan for getting the horses out. I have boarded at very few barns that have sprinkler systems. Smoke detectors are sometimes present as well, but I am not sure how effective they are either. Barns burn so quickly. I guess if people are living in apartments above the barn they have a better chance of getting some of the horses out. Another problem is actually safely removing the horses from the burning building. We were fortunate at Pink Star that there were only 4 horses in the barn at the time. If it had been summer, the barns would have been full of horses. In addition, the first responding fire company was familiar enough with horses to know what to do. But what else can be done? Fire drills? Some fire departments say that they would prefer that the horses wear their halters while in their stalls. But many of us have seen horses have terrible accidents while wearing their halters. That is far more common than a barn fire. My husband had made a suggestion, and we are working on this. I am not at liberty to discuss it just yet, as we don't even know if it is feasible.... In my last post I mentioned that I had been contacted by someone with a barn fire survivor from the Dutch Mills Farm fire. That night I received an email from someone in NY whose barn burned down. She was able to rescue her two horses, but her pet chickens and rabbit did not survive. XXX herself was burned getting her horses out. One made it out unharmed, butthe other was severely burned, and "on fire" when she pulled him out. His injuries are similar to Suki's. But she said that spirit and will to live are evident. XXX spent three weeks in the hospital and did not see her horse until then. She was horrified by what she saw, but said that his personality was normal as he demanded treats from her! When I spoke to her, the love for her horses was apparent. She would run into that burning barn all over again to save her beloved horses. I admire her strength and courage! I referred her and her vet to speak with Dr. Fugaro, and told her what I have been doing as far as wound care and maintenance. These two calls, so close together have prompted me to write guidelines for post-burn care. I may even submit it to one of the horse care magazines. The after care remains an unknown to many people, once their veterinarians have saved the horses and sent them home. Suki's experience can help and inspire them. Everyday people tell me what an inspiration she is to horses and humans alike. I just wish there were not so many fires.... Short post today, but my son and I have a stomach flu that we are recovering from..... Our new friend took a bunch of beautiful photographs on Sunday. Here is one of Suki playing in the snow. Just look at how much fun she is having! Is that a happy, healthy horse, or what??

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Going Home! (May 7, 2011)

So eight weeks after her arrival, Suki was leaving Centenary College to come home again. Once again, it was a family affair. The trailer was at Nikki's barn, so that was our first stop. Once at Centenary, Dr. Fugaro and I looked at the graft site, cleaned it and re-bandaged it. Then, given Suki's ease of trailer loading, we gave her a little bit of sedation and waited for it to take effect. I was disappointed that the whole Team was not available that day. I wanted to thank them in person and say goodbye. But it was getting close to graduation and they had many obligations. Becky was giving lessons, but did come over with the newly revised fly sheet and to provide some assistance with loading. There were a few other students around as well, which was nice to see. We would probably need some extra hands for loadinf also! Once Suki was ready,we began the loading process. And it was indeed a process. I took the lead rope and walked toward the ramp with confidence as if she would just march right onto the trailer. Even sedated, Suki was not going to make it easy! We tried food, and lifting each foot, slow and quiet, a whip for encouragement....etc. You name it, we tried it, with the exception of the lunge line behind the butt....Suki panics with that one. We moved the center divider all the way to one side to make it more inviting. We got close a couple of times, but no go. The trailer is extra high and extra wide, so it is not like we were trying to cram her into a minivan! As usual, Suki eventually tired of the game. She walked right on and we closed the ramp! After that we secured the tail bar and closed the top doors. aaah...ready to roll. We said our goodbyes and off we went. The drive was uneventful, but Suki was a bit sweaty when we arrived home. She really does not like to travel. It was good to be home, but now I would be assuming the follow up care (with Lori's help). I hoped we would have an easier time than before. Because Suki had not been out on grass for awhile, she would need to be weaned onto grass once again. By May the fields were pretty lush, so she would start with short periods on grass that would gradually increase. The balance of turnout time was in a paddock with hay. The weather was still cool enough that Suki could wear her sleazy with a bandage underneath.
Of course, first day unsupervised, Suki rolled. Even with the bandage and the sleazy, she managed to cause some bleeding to the area. I did not use the pontton fly sheet because she still seemed to be able to get it to twist, and I was concerned about the leg straps. I was ok with her wearing it in the stall, but hesitant for using it outside unsupervised.
So now, we had to resort to supervised turnout only, with lunging to help keep Suki busy. Unfortunately this meant that she would probably only have two turnouts per day at an hour each. While this worked well at Centenary, it was difficult at home. There was not much activity, and another horse would need to stay with her in the barn. At Centenary the limited turnout time plus lunging worked well because of the constant activity and attention in the barn. Suki would also need to be checked in the middle of the day to check her water and give her some hay. I felt like we were back to square one....but this was the best chance of success for the site to heal, or I would end up bandaging her forever! We went through another few rolls in her stall, and because I was not completely comfortable with the pontoon fly sheet, there was a little more damage...The wound was not infected, so at least we did not have to deal with that.
So we continued with supervised turnout and the pontoon sheet in the stall. That made a huge difference, but I was still not happy with how much the sheet shifted. But the graft site definately started to improve again!
January 22, 2012 We had a bit of snow yesterday so Suki was only out for a couple of hours, which she certainly enjoyed! Today one of Suki's FB friends, who lives nearby came to the barn to meet her. It was so exciting to meet XX. Suki was her typical diva self, showing her sweet side and hamming it up for the camera. XX gave her some peppermints, which of course, Suki LOVES! And she brought homemade oatmeal raisin cookies for me....Yumm! It is so nice to meet Suki's supporters and get to know them. It has meant so much to me to have so many people behind us supporting Suki's journey. I am extremely fortunate. Yesterday I was contacted by the person who runs a rescue in Washington state. August 2011, there was a barn fire at Dutch Mill Farm in Washington. One of the surviving horses has injuries similar to Suki's. His owner surrendered him to the rescue because the cost became overwhelming. The treating veterinarian is going to speak to Dr. Fugaro about the possible need for a skin graft, and the additional treatment. I am glad that we can be a resource for others. Suki's case has enabled veterinarians to learn valuable information regarding burn treatments, which can hopefully at least give them a starting point when treating other burned horses. I have learned a lot about after care through much trial and error and am happy to pass along this information as well. And Dr. Fugaro continues to be a source for other veterinarians. This is not the first time I have requested his help by speaking to those who contact me. I am so grateful for his willingness to help.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Getting ready to go home (May 2011)

May 1st, 2011 we brought Nikki home. Michael, Isaiah and I went to Heather's first for a lesson on Nikki. I had a great lesson and was excited to start riding again. Because the horse trailer was parked at the equestrian center by Suki, we went over for a Suki visit and to pick up the trailer. The two farms are 15 minutes apart, so after Suki we would go back to Heather's to pick up Nikki. I know, sounds crazy. Michael and Isaiah should have gone to pick up the trailer while I was riding, but I really wanted to see Suki and talk to Mike about bringing her home.... Yes, sometimes my husband truly is a saint! Suki's wound looked great, and I watched while it was cleaned and the bandage was changed. Then we put Suki out in the paddock for awhile, while Michael and Isaiah went off in search of cats. Isaiah loves animals, and seeks them out at every barn! Suki entertained us wih some passaging and extended trot around the paddock. I probably spent to much time doing all of that, but the ime just flew by, as it always does when I am with my horses! We said our goodbyes, hooked up the trailer, and went back to pick up Nikki. I wish I could say that Nikki just walked on the trailer....but no....but it was not as bad as last time, and we were on our way. Nikki seemed to settle into her stall at Valley Mist nicely. So off we went and I promised Nikki to be back the next day to ride! May 3, the graft site looks awesome!!
May 5, 2011: Suki's 11th birthday! Suki was a little unsure of the cake....probably because she was concerned about photo shoots....you know she was a celebrity!
The plan was to bring Suki home the following weekend. That gave me a week to get Nikki and me settled in at Valley Mist Farm, which worked out perfectly. Nikki was totally fine with a new arena and new surroundings. Such a brave 4 year old! That week also gave me time to gather supplies and prepare for Suki's return. There would be a lot of scheduling to figure out, because for awhile, Suki would need to have wound management. We were ready!! January 20, 2012 Snow and ice predicted for overnight and tomorrow. I hope they are wrong! I don't want to miss my Nikki ride tomorrow! Suki received her full treatment today and even though I have been using a really high power moisturizer, The skin on Suki's neck is dry. I exfoliate and moisturize every day, and winter is just tough. But the skin and the graft area are healthy and healed, so that makes me happy. My goal for 2012 is to compete with Nikki in the 5 year old dressage tests and DARE I SAY IT......ride those tests at Dressage at Devon. She will also show in hunter classes with Meaghan....busy season ahead! Add to that long line work with Suki, oh boy! Oh well, it's good to have goals....I just have to organize my time and be realistic about the goals!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

End of April, 2011

For the rest of April the healing progressed fairly smoothly. Suki continued to have supervised turnout and lunging. The students volunteered to hang out with Suki when she was turned out, ready to yell at her if she tried to roll!
Fortunately, Suki is not one of those really quick drop and roll horses. A lot of thought goes into the best possible location. Then there is the slow descent to the knees, down to the belly and over onto her side. This is accompanied by very loud groaning. Some have compared it to the falling of a large Redwood tree. Something tells me that Miss Suki would NOT like to be compared to a tree! AND, she usually decides to roll too close to the fence for my comfort, so when I see that I stop her! Of course a nice deep muddy spot is ideal as well. An entire 5 acre field can be filled with grass and one patch of mud. You can guess where my princess chooses to roll, I'm sure! Aaah, I guess that's how it is for most horses though. As many people have pointed out, women use mud packs on their skin, so maybe the horses have the right idea! My big complaint is the layer of dirt that covers me when I am finished grooming away the dried mud! As you might suspect, Suki does not like to be vacuumed....Nikki on the other hand LOVES it! Nikki isn't usually as big of a mud ball as Suki is, but where Suki is very neat in her stall, keeping all of her business in the back, Nikki is a bit of a pig. She actually uses manure as a pillow....nothing like caked, dried manure on your horses head! One time she actually pinned her ears at me when I told her that she stunk! I'm pretty sure she knew EXACTLY what I was saying! Maybe she'll outgrow it?? The fly sheet with the pontoons was returned to us so the Team tried to use that for turnout. It did keep Suki from rolling all the way over onto her back, but would shift quite a bit when she stood up again. So back it went for additional straps and tweaking. The graft was really beginning to look good as new skin filled in the area between the plugs, which became less defined as time progressed. There would still be the occasional over night indiscretion which resulted in a little rubbing and bleeding, but nothing too damaging. Dr. Fugaro was hesitant to send Suki home at that point because he wanted to continue to monitor the site a bit longer. In addition, going home meant unsupervised turnout, or no turnout except when someone could spend the time watching her. That would probably not work at the barn where Suki was boarding, so she remained at Centenary for a bit longer. April 26, 2011
Nikki would be coming home the first weekend in May. I had found a great barn in Oley, with an indoor arena and excellent care. The turnout was nice and there was a large outdoor ring as well. It was a hunter barn, but Nikki would get ridden twice a week over fences as Heather and I had discussed. Of course there would be jumps set up in both arenas, but at Nikki's age and level of training I could easily work around them. I would not be picking up both girls on the same day this time. I felt that it would be better to get Nikki settled in at her new barn (and me as well) while just focusing on one horse. Suki would be returning to the barn that we had left and I was familiar with the routine there so it would be an easy transition. I had concerns about bringing Suki home because of the importance of the follow up care. Everyone had been working so hard so it was really important to properly care for the wound site. The care would be intense again for awhile, but Lori had said that she would help me. I sometimes felt as though I was taking advantage of people, but tried to show my gratitude as much as I could. I appreciated all of the help and support more than I could ever say in a lifetime. January 19, 2012 Last night I didn't have time to do Suki's full grooming and spa treatment. Michael is away and I had to pick up Isaiah from school. He is certainly getting better about listening at the barn, but it was cold, so my plan was just to check Suki's blankets to be sure she was warm enough. Of course she was COVERED in mud! But she would have to stay that way for the night. Isaiah came into the stall with me and she snuffled his head, then tried to suck a candy cane out of his hand! Tonight I will have quite a job ahead of me. Suki won't mind though. We will have our quality time just as I did with Nikki earlier. Also, the new blog format won't let me separate my paragraphs....so I apologize for the run on, non paragraphs. As I write it, the paragraphs are here, but when I publish it they are not....uggh!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Newark Star Ledger comes for a visit (April 21, 2011)

The press release by Centenary College attracted the attention of the NJ newspaper the Newark Star Ledegr. The paper was interested in sending a team to the equestrian center to cover the story for print, and video. I was so excited by this! The college and Team Suki would gain some recognition for what they were doing for my girl. This would wonderful publicity for the college as well. We are so used to hearing about negative events and the terrible things that people do to one another, that this would be a nice story for people to read. The girls got Suki ready for her photo shoot and interview. They even lunged her in the morning to (as Dr. Fugaro put it)"get the crazies out"! By the time I arrived at the equestrian center Suki was shining and beautiful; ready to be a star! A representative from the college was present as well as me and Team Suki. The Star Ledger sent a reporter, videographer and photographer. The vidoegrapher had won Emmy awards...Suki was certainly feeling special! Each of us were interviewed by the reporter, and then again on camera by the videographer. It started with Suki being walked from her stall to the front barn where photos were taken of her graft site and a variety of other photos. All I can say is this is where Suki's "star power" really came through. As the photographer clicked away Suki "modelled". She was actually tilting her head, turning it, and generally "working the camera". We all laughed so hard. Suki's nickname has always been Super Model, and she certainly lived up to that name! Everyone kept talking to her, fussing, and photgraphing. Suki enjoyed every minute of it...she was a natural! We were also going to shoot some footage of Suki being lunged, so Kim took her to the outdoor arena. I wanted someone from the team to lunge Suki because this article was about Suki, the team and the college. People are always saying how wonderful it is that I saved my horse and remain so dedicated to her care. But it has taken us a long time to get to this point, and I did not do it alone. It literally took a village. Suki can be a little unruly in new situations or if something really interesting catches her eye. As Dr. Fugaro and I stood by the rail he leaned over and whispered "maybe we should have tranqued her!" I had been thinking the very same thing! But I'll give to that girl....Suki knows when she needs to put out, and does it in style! Once again, she modelled for the camera and did her very best to be the star that she is! Kim with Suki and the photographer and videographer
The day went really well, and once again, the team worked really hard to make it a success. I hate the way I look on the video, though. I was speaking so fast! In fact it took several days before I would even watch it! The print piece came out on a Sunday, with a littlepreview photo on the front page....ABOVE the fold! I'll admit, I was excited. The article was great, but there was one major error....it named the site of the fire as Blue Hill Farm....That was where I had boarded when I first bought Suki. The fire was actually at Pink Star Equestrian! They corrected it on line immediately, thankfully, with a correction regarding the print piece the following week. The link to the article which also contains the video http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/05/remarkable_recovery_of_severel.html January 17, 2012 yesterday I found at the my nine year old cat, Rugby has kidney cancer and will likely only live a few more weeks. He is comfortable and happy, and I am sure will let us know when it is time. This just breaks my heart. There isn't anything that I can do except keep him comfortable. My 5 year old son will be devastated. I ordered two picture books about the death of a pet to help prepare him. Last night when I was grooming Suki I spoke about it. She was very subdued and kept nuzzling me, which was a tremendous comfort. Animals always know how to read us and comfort us.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Another Big Roll (April 2011)

Well, of course, things cannot always go as planned, or even as hoped. As I have said, Suki is very clever about scratching with an amazing ability to reach areas on her body that most people would think impossible. So I received the call on April 10 that over night Suki had apparently rolled and there was some damage to the graft area. When the team first saw the blood, they thought that the damage was far worse than it actually was. Once it was cleaned the wound did not look as bad as initially thought. I'm not saying that there was no damage. There was, and it was a setback. But this is an animal that we are talking about, and we can only exert so much control over their activities! Clearly we still needed a better protective garment than the bandage and the sleazy. That was always going to be the rate-limiting step.



One of the fly sheets was still being modified. It had been fitted once or twice but additional tweaks were necessary for it to be effective. The sheet was being fitted with four "pontoon" type of structures which would lift the garment off the bandage on Suki's back. Hopefully when she rolled the ground would not come in direct contact with the wound or bandage. For now a heavily padded bandage with the sleazy on top would have to do. Only hand walking, lunging and supervised turnout would be allowed. Of course, she was still able to get into trouble in her stall, but a big roll outside would be far worse! Suki continued with her usual antics and demanded that evryone who came into the barn give her some attention (treats along with the attention were best!). So we went along for a few more weeks, with much improvement!
As the graft area began to heal I was amazed at the transformation that was taking place. New skin was growing and beginning to blur the edges of the plugs. There was still quite a bit of daily maintenance, of course. Each day (or every other day if the bandage was completely intact!) The wound needed to be cleaned and re-dressed. There was hand walking, babysitting during turnout and lunging. Team Suki was VERY busy. Other students helped when they were able to, but the four people, in addition to Dr. Fugaro bore most of the responsibility. I will say it again: an amazing, dedicated group of people. The procedure and the aftercare would not have been possible without their kindness. Suki, for the most part was very cooperaive with cleaning and bandage changing. Dr. Fugaro said that she was even getting better about needles....hmmmm I'm not so sure about that. More likely they were getting better about sneaking up on her! Any indication that there may be a needle involved and Suki goes on high alert. When it is time for vaccinations and blood for Coggins, it is crucial to draw the blood first....you will never get close enough after that! Suki also needs to be the first horse done, if other horses in the barn are being examined. If she sees someone evil and suspicious (AKA, the vet)you will never catch her in her stall! This is not because of the fire and the resulting treatments....this is just Suki! In the middle of April the college sent a press release to a variety of news outlets: http://www.nj.com/warrenreporter/index.ssf/2011/04/centenary_college_equestrian_c.html Suki was becoming quite famous! After the press release, syudents who hadn't known that she was at the equestrian center were now aware of the situation and she began to receive even MORE visitors. The diva was going to be impossible to live with!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

4 days post op

The team was very attentive with aftercare. The plugs adhere quickly from coagulation, but these are not strong connections. Post-op care is crucial, and rubbing and rolling needs to be prevented to allow the skin plugs to adhere securely. Bandages were applied to the area and Suki wore the sleazy with a sheet on top of that. She was also only allowed hand walks and grazing during this time. Once again, the team monitored Suki carefully and the spoiled girl loved the attention!

Every day someone would either text or call me to give me updates and tell Suki stories. Sometimes Suki would walk quietly, taking in the sights and sounds of the busy equestrian center. Other times she would passage or piaffe along side of whomever was leading her! A sharp growl usually brings her to her senses! Whenever Suki does this she puffs herself up, raising her head and arching her neck. It is an impressive sight indeed, and the students handled her beautifully.

Inside the barn, the daily activities kept Suki entertained, and she in turn entertained everyone in the barn. Horses crosstied in the aisle being groomed would prompt Suki to demand attention from the student or owner working with those horses! And of course, everyone indulged her! That's a diva for you! Suki received a lot of visitors as more and more students learned that she was staying there.

Four days post op

Four days after the graft procedure the site looks healthy and the plugs are adhering nicely. In the beginning the bandage was changed daily.

Site of plug removal was also healing well.


At this point Dr. Fugaro was unsure when Suki would be ready to go home. The after care and observation would be extensive for awhile, and we all wanted to ensure its success. Initially we thought that Suki would stay at Centenary for about a month, but because the procedure could not be performed immediately, we knew that Centenary would be her home at least through the beginning of April.

Many rumors surrounded the reason for Suki's presence at the college. Some heard that she had been donated to the riding program.....while Suki would love the attention, she is not an easy ride, and tests a person the first time they get on her. Well, I guess that would certainly be challenging at an intercollegiate show, where the students ride horses by lottery! But no, my beloved girl would always be mine!

I couldn't wait for the weekend to see my girls! It was difficult to have both of the girls away at the same time, and seeing them on the weekends was a nice respite from the work week and family obligations. A day that was completely mine! Nikki was progressing well, but would be staying at Heather's until the end of April.

This time they would be returning to two different barns. Suki would go back to the farm that was 5 minutes from my house, but I really needed a barn with an indoor for Nikki. As a 4 year old her work would increase, and the schedule needed to be more consistent than it had been the year before. The area where I live has many horse farms but not a lot with indoor arenas, that were in easy driving distance. The barn needed to be in close proximity to the circle that I drove between work, Isaiah's school, home and Suki's barn. The only candidates were hunter barns, and they routinely did not accept dressage riders because they do not generate income. I totally understand this from a business perspective. Training and show stables make money through lessons, training and showing. Heather suggested that I go to one of the hunter barns. She said that the cross training would be good for Nikki, and there would be someone to ride Nikki on the days when I would not be able to.

So the search was on.....

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Day of the skin graft

The skin graft procedure was scheduled for March 26, and I was going to be there to observe. There had been a few warm days, but that day was cold and damp (of course!)I went to Heather's first to ride Nikki, then over to Centenary for the procedure. I had a wonderful lesson on Nikki! She was coming back into work slowly, but surely.

The surgery was to be performed in a wash stall, made as "sterile" as possible. The entrance to the barn was blocked, as was the aisle of the barn as it approached the wash stall. Several additional students were there to help Dr. Fugaro and Team Suki.




Suki was brought into the wash stall and sedated. She had a catheter in place for when additional sedatives would be required. Healthy skin plugs were taken from the left side of Suki's neck, then sutured to close the incision areas. The "plugs" were taken using a punch biopsy following the hair being shaved and the skin prepped for surgery. The would would have plugs removed also, and the healthy skin plugs inserted into these holes. Suturing is not required because blood coagulation and wound healing would hold them in place.

As the team began to remove the plugs from the neck, they encountered thicker, scarred skin. While the hair re-growth had looked normal, the skin underneath was thicker and scarred. The skin was functional and healthy, but not ideal to promote skin growth and epithelialization. This would not be suitable for the plugs, so the healthy skin area was smaller than originally anticipated. Two people worked on removing the plugs and suturing the holes, and Dr. Fugaro and an assistant placed the healthy plugs into the smaller holes created on the wound area. Considering the fact that we were working in a barn, the procedure was performed under impressively "sterile" conditions.

The surgery took quite a bit longer than anticipated, and Suki needed additional sedation occasionally. I helped when I could and stayed out of the way when necessary and observed. I am a scientist by trade and education and have performed extensive medical research, so it was difficult for me to keep my hands off! I wanted so much to jump in and help suture and/or remove plugs. The team did a great job! It was a long day, and everyone was tired. Again, everyone had given up their Saturday to do this....I continue to be beyond grateful for their dedication!

The skin graft area, post-op

Area where healthy skin plugs had been removed: the area to the right was too scarred to take plugs and achieve normal growth.



When everything was finished, we dressed Suki in a bandage and her new Sleazy. We were all a bit anxious, I think....no one wanted there to be a big rolling episode!

Post-op in the new Sleazy

I waited until Suki was fully awake before I left. The Team was there to take care of her, but everyone was tired and i wanted to do as much as i could to help. Suki was a star throughout the day. There were times during the surgery when she would start to become a little more aware, but medication was quickly administered. The procedure was impressive and time consuming. I wanted it to be successful for so many reasons: this was the best opportunity for the wound to finally heal. But also so many people had invested time and energy and would continue to do so for the next several weeks. We couldn't even think of sending Suki back to a normal boarding situation until Dr. Fugaro was confident that healing was well progressed. He would check Suki daily, and the team would monitor her several times a day. This was a huge commitment for everyone involved. I would not be out until the following weekend....

January 14, 2012

COLD today! I had a squealing baby Nikki on the lunge, but then she was fine. Tomorrow AM will be colder, but not so bad that we can't endure! Both Suki and Nikki are wearing their heavy Rambo blankets, plus an additional layer for extra warmth. Both girls received hugs and gummies before I left. Suki was out today, but Nikki may not have been...depended on the status of the pastures and paddocks. At Suki's barn they were in smaller paddocks toady, but will probably be out in the fields tomorrow. The drastically fluctuating temperatures makes it difficult to dress them!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

First days at Centenary

Team Suki



Suki settled in well, and began her stay at Centenary. Originally Dr. Fugaro thought that he would perform the skin graft a week about a week after Suki's arrival. But when he saw the amount of scar tissue that had developed, we realized that it would be a few weeks before that could happen. The area needed to be debrided and the "lump" of scar tissue reduced.

The first order of business was a bath and a mane pulling! The latter can usually only be performed when Suki is sedated, so when she was loopy for wound debridement, the girsl gave her the beauty treatment! Afetr her bath Dr. Mike took her out for grass. I love this photo! I imagine that Suki was doing more of the leading though....so many new things to look at!




Because she wouldnt be able to be turned out for awhile, it was important that Suki get lunged regularly. I guess the first time they brought Suki to the indoor she was afraid of the mirrors. I can't help but think that she was messing with them....Suki has been in many indoors with mirrors. She is a notorious tester when someone new handles her, and I warned the Team about that. True to her diva personality she challenged the first person who tried to lunge her, then was fine. What can I say? I know my girl!

While I know that Suki missed me those first few days away, I also know that she was very spoiled! All that attention! In addition to her regular needs, students were constantly stopping in to visit her. Because many of the school horses were housed in that barn there was always a lot of activity. Suki is a very nosy girl. The extra activity was also a diversion and made up, somewhat for not being turned out. I'll bet she loved EVERY minute of it. I felt much better that Suki had all of those surrogate mommies to spoil her! Such an amazing group of people. They gave up there spare time to help with her care. How does one even come CLOSE to expressing appreciation for such kindness, effort and dedication?

The Team really got to know Suki that first week. They enjoyed her quirks, but did not let her take advantage of them! While the fly sheet was being altered, protection of the wound was again an issue. It is amazing what Suki can do in a stall. I had left several sheets with her, but she still managed to dislodge the bandage over night. I liked to joke with Mike and say that I could come up and show him how to apply the bandage! : )

One week later I went to have a lesson on Nikki, followed by a Suki visit. This was obviously an all day event, between travel and time spent at both barns. It was a thrill to ride Nikki after 3 months of not sitting on her! There is something magical that happens when you put your foot in the stirrup!

From Heather's I went to see Suki, and observed wound cleaning and bandage change. It was sunny that day so we used the cross ties outside. Everyone said that she seemed to prefer that anyway....I think that it was nosiness! The debridement was going well, and the wound had nice pink, healthy edges. It would be another week or so before the graft procedure would take place. I was planning on observing the procedure.

Because Suki kept rolling and dislodging her bandage, Mike decided to try a belly wrap under the sheet....



She wiggled it back by morning. I was on the phone the next morning ordering a sleazy (That one piece, fitted jersey that fits like a big bra over the whole body), hoping that would work...

January 12,2012
Rainy day today. Suki was in all day, but in a surprisingly good mood. I had a very long day at work, and missed my ride time on Nikki, which makes me cranky. Spending time with Suki helped, and she even let me massage her face and ears!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Today

This is my view standing on a stool leaning over Suki's back....



Today I am going to step away from the back story because of some interesting occurrences yesterday.

When I arrived at the barn late yesterday afternoon one of the other boarders was having a lesson. With a slight warm up in temperature the past few days the footing must have been suitable to ride. I always find that this time of year a top layer may be soft but and inch or two down is frozen, making for slick conditions. Obviously it was OK....too bad it was starting to get dark. The footing may have been suitable to lunge Suki!

I began my usual routine of Suki care when they all came into the barn. The instructor came barreling down the aisle with her hand thrust out in front of her in a gesture to shake mine. "Hi, I'm X", she said. "I am so glad to meet the person who saved Suki's life. I have read all about her!" As X stood next to Suki she remarked how much taller she was than what she appeared when standing in the field. People are always amazed at Suki's size. I guess I am just used to it! Admittedly,though, sometimes when I am throwing a blanket up onto her back I say: "You ARE a big girl!" X continued to look at Suki and commented about how amazing she looked and what a miracle her recovery was. We continued to chat while she helped her student with her horse.

Suki always seems to know when she has an admirer or an audience. She proceeded to bend herself in half to scratch behind her belly, arch her neck and look at X from under her forelock, and a variety of other little tricks that she does to impress onlookers, prompting them to comment about her beauty and cleverness! It makes me laugh every time! I believe that it is because of this "bigger than life" personality that Suki not only survived the fire, but thrived in her recovery.

Christine, the barn manager was also at the farm last night. Suki is now getting turned out with Banker, because he was being mean to Prince (who is 30) and everyone is afraid of Suki. She never physically does anything to the other horses, but is kind of a mean girl. Chester was actually beginning to try to leave the pasture as he was being brought in! But apparently with Banker, Suki has met her match. He is in the stall next to her, and completely un-moved by her antics. That makes her angry.... So now they are also going out together. Christine said that earlier in the day when she was driving down the lane she actually saw Suki and Banker PLAYING! When she tried to take a picture, they stopped. Suki will never admit to playing!

While we were talking, Christine and her friend were standing behind where Suki was cross-tied. At one point I was standing with them. Suki kept turning around to listen to the conversation. She has this manner of turning her head and neck as if trying to engage in the conversation. I can remember finishing a ride and standing talking to others in the arena. Suki would physically turning her entire body around so that she was face to face with those involved in the conversation. This is typical Suki behavior. My mare Jenny was the same way. Is that just mares in general, or is it me? Nikki is heading in the same direction.... I'll say it again. Gotta love the mares!

Last night I also had someone comment on my nightly FB post. A burn survivor from Georgia. She was burned in 1986. This person had been burned over 67% of her body and was given a 3% chance of survival. She spent 2 1/2 months in a burn unit. After reading my story awhile ago she shared it with her friends and just recently discovered my FB page and blog. I was so thrilled to have her share her story. Every time I encounter a burn survivor I am inspired by their courage. Everyone kept saying that Suki had an amazing will to live and that was why she survived. These wonderful people who I encounter have had that same will. Against all odds, they have survived. It makes me take a step back and realize how silly it is to complain about somewhat meaningless daily frustrations! Every day is a gift. Life is a gift.

Suki really does have the ability to help heal. Animals are so incredibly therapeutic. They love unconditionally and only want our kindness in return. It is so important to me to put my plan into action. Suki has met with a small number of burn survivors with an overwhelming response from them. I am trying to find groups that would be interested in visiting her.....

Tomorrow: Preparing for the skin graft

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

We're going to New Jersey! (March 2011)

We have arrived!


Saying Hi to Dr. Mike

On our way to the barn


Because Suki and Nikki were going to be at two different barns, I had to pack supplies for each of them. Nikki's trunk contained tack, grooming supplies, supplements, treats, blankets and boots. Suki's contained wound care supplies, exfoliation and moisturizing products, blankets, sheets, grooming supplies, supplements and treats. I am a list person, so as the countdown to the travel day began, I had a list of supplies for each horse and lists of things to do prior to departure. It is like sending your child to camp (including all of the related anxiety!)

So March 13 finally arrived. Michael would be driving (route 78 is VERY scary!) and Isaiah would be coming along as well. I went to the barn ahead of time to load the truck and trailer and get the girls ready for their trip. We planned to leave between 10 and 10:30 AM. Nikki had only been on a trailer once, and Suki was becoming increasingly difficult to load, as evidenced by our trip from the rehab farm! Knowing this I had arranged for some additional loading help.

My plan was to load Nikki first thinking that Suki would go on easier if a horse was already inside. Nikki had loaded easily at Heather's with a bucket of grain. Oh, how foolish I was! When Nikki wouldn't load we switched to Suki. That turned into its usual battle where she refuses to even look at the trailer. I texted Heather and Mike to tell them that we were running late, and asked Mike about a dose of acepromazine (sedative) for Suki. Usually a cocktail is given, but all we had was Ace, and I was unsure of the dose. With that in hand I tricked Princess Suki by scratching her withers and injecting in the muscle in her chest. Now we had a 30 minute wait. Just in case, Heather said to hit Nikki with some as well. So there we sat......

When the horses lips were suitably droopy (a sign that they are sedated)we started again. No go. Each one of us tried with a variety of methods, when FINALLY Suki decided that the game was over and walked on. Nikki followed fairly quickly after that. So off we went, ONLY 2 1/2 hours after our intended departure time. I was exhausted already!

The drive went smoothly and we could not hear or feel any ruckus from the trailer. First stop: Flying Change Farm to drop off Nikki. We settled her in fairly quickly with her equipment and supplement instructions. Everyone was surprised at how much she had grown since they had last seen her! I gave Nikki hugs and kisses and went back to the trailer. Suki had some visitors in the trailer and with many well wishes we were off again. This time for the 20 minute drive to Centenary. I was proud of Suki for not fussing when we unloaded Nikki as she stood quietly on the trailer until we drove away again. But there was usually someone talking to her, and she LOVES attention!

We made it to Centenary with only one turn around (the street had been re-named)and finally pulled into the equestrian center. The equestrian center at Centenary College is pretty impressive. Large fenced pasture areas, large outdoor arenas, several barns and a large indoor arena with classrooms and a lounge. Since we left the back barn has undergone a complete renovation. When I located Dr. Fugaro, he and some of the TEAM Suki members came with me to unload her and take her to the barn.

Suki unloaded quietly and walked nicely by my side to the barn. As I have said, she always settles in pretty quickly so she walked into her stall and started nibbling at the hay. The folks from Suds and Duds were there to take measurements and discuss adjustments to the fly sheet. Suki was very good for all of that, trying to find treats from everyone the entire time! I demonstrated and explained Suki's daily grooming, exfoliation and moisturizing routine. Knowing about Suki's love for gummy bears one of the girls had made a stall card for Suki with gummy bears photoshopped around the perimeter. It was so cute!

As hard as it was hard to leave her behind, I knew that Suki was in good hands. With a veterinarian, several veterinary technicians and an army of equine science students, why should I worry? I am a horse mom, that's why! I worry about my horses like I worry about my cats, dog and of course, my beautiful son, Isaiah.

We parked the trailer and made the two hour drive home. My daily routine was going to be quite different for awhile! While the girls were away I would only see them on the weekends. In one way I was thinking about the extra time I would have to work on other projects, but I would certainly miss my girls....

Monday, January 9, 2012

Before the skin graft: Feb 2011

Nikki


Suki

The plan was to take the girls to New Jersey on March 13. We would drop off Nikki first, at Heather's then go to the college with Suki. My goal until that day arrived was to continue with Suki's wound care, etc and hope that she didn't do any more damage to the area.

February brought still MORE snow, so any plans for lunging were now completely gone! The girls continued with their daily turnouts, weather permitting. I enjoyed my time with them, but once again, those very cold days brought some challenges. Bringing warm water in a thermos from home, and heating Elasticon rolls under my shirt was getting old! But, you do what you have to do. And while sometimes as I write this blog I feel like I am whining and complaining, I really did not as it was occurring. We make our decisions and either go with it or not. I feel fortunate that my girl survived and is thriving and even compare it at times to having a special needs child. Although as time marches on, Suki's care becomes more and more like that of a "normal" horse in boarding.

Sometimes if I needed something I would go to my supplies to get something, only to realize that I had lost it in the fire. I must admit, sometimes that made me really angry. YEARS of accumulating supplies and equipment were gone. Yes, I was reimbursed by my home owner's insurance, with depreciation. It didn't come close to covering the cost of what I had lost. But then I would think about the phone call in the early morning hours after the fire, of the Pink Star employee complaining about all that she and the other boarders had lost....their horses had not been injured.

Getting Nikki to Heather's meant that I would finally be preparing for riding in the spring. Having not ridden her since November I was anxious to get started again. I had some anxiety about Suki's procedure because so many people would be investing time and energy and I wanted it to be successful!

Another roll opened it up again. There is also a thick layer of scar tissue surrounding the burn.

Throughout all of this, Suki always maintained her diva personality. Some days she is sweet and loving, other days impatient. Exactly the way she was before the fire! She always enjoyed exfoliation on the itchiest parts of her body though! Her withers did not have any hair growth and Suki loved to have that area scratched. This was also really not any different....the withers have always been the sweet spot, with Suki contorting her neck, lips and head in appreciation. Nothing like a good scratch!

I often worried about Suki's happiness. Since on any occasion people questioned my decision to save her, I wanted to always know that she was comfortable and happy. Keeping busy and working was important to Suki's mental and physical health. Before the fire, she did not have extended breaks from work. She SEEMED happy, but it was always a concern. At not yet 4, I was less worried about Nikki having the time off. While I would have preferred to have ridden her through the winter, boarding circumstances didn't allow it. I knew that sometimes 3 year olds were given their first winter off....plus Heather said it was okay! I had inquired about a barn with an indoor nearby, and had actually planned to move both girls there in November. But with the extra Suki care it would have been logistically difficult. Then I heard some less than flattering reviews, and decided to stay where I was!

January 9, 2012
I have been thinking a lot lately about meeting the firefighter who rescued Suki from the barn. They received a Red Cross award for saving animals several months after the fire. I had contacted the firefighter and although he said he was willing to come see Suki and meet me, it never materialized. I would love to just thank him in person, and let him see Suki....the beautiful life that he risked his own life to save. How can you ever appropriately thank someone for such an act??

Sunday, January 8, 2012

January 2011: I see a skin graft in our future!



Suki and Nikki


January brought snow, and plenty of it! Those nights of wound management and grooming of the girls was cold indeed! No more lunging for now. Since neither Suki nor Nikki were wearing shoes at this time, I did not have to worry about getting snowball pads for them to prevent ice balls*.

Even while wearing a heavy blanket (and sometimes more than one layer!) and a bandage, Suki still managed to roll hard enough to rub open the burn on her back. The cold weather also made it difficult for the Elasticon to adhere well, so I often kept a roll in my car to help it stick. I also kept bottles of saline at home so that it would not be cold against Suki's skin while I cleaned the wound. The setbacks became frustrating, and I started to think about the possibility of the necessity of a skin graft.




Heather had sent me some photos of the horse owned by one of her boarders. Dr. Fugaro had performed a skin graft done on his fetlock, and the results were amazing! I guess that was her subtle way of telling me to speak to him about it! : )

Cost was a bit of a concern, as I was still paying off the New Bolton bill. But I knew that this burn was never going to heal at the rate that we were going. I decided to speak to Dr. Fugaro about the possibilities and the logistics of such a procedure. He had previously told me that the skin graft could be performed on site at a barn, but he is in New Jersey and I am in Pennsylvania. One option we considered was bringing Suki to Heather's farm which was in close proximity to Mike's office and the college. Post op examinations and treatments would be time consuming which would require someone from the veterinary practice going to the farm in addition to Mike, or having someone from Heather's already busy staff to pitch in. Mike suggested that perhaps Suki could be boarded at the Centenary College Equestrian Center which he visited daily and had access to staff and students. This had to be cleared with the college before we could proceed. In addition, the only cost to me would be board and Suki's personal incidentals....Mike was not going to charge me for the procedure or follow up care. There are simply no words to describe how grateful I was for such a gift. He felt that it would be a great learning experience for the students, but I also knew that it would be time consuming for all of them. With me living nearly two hours away, I was not going to be much help on a regular basis.

The college approved the idea, and Mike set about assembling a team to help with Suki's care. Because I was going to be taking Nikki to Heather's March to get back into work, we decided to coordinate the dates so that only one trip would be necessary. Dr. Fugaro thought that Suki would need to stay at Centenary for 4-6 weeks, depending on the progress following the skin graft procedure. He had also arranged for a representative from a blanket repair company to adapt one of Suki's fly sheets to protect the graft area. I was excited and nervous....a lot of people were donating their time, and I wanted it to be worth their efforts. They did not feel that way, of course. The most important thing to Team Suki was getting that burn to heal. In our cold and cynical world, extreme acts of kindness and generosity seem unusual. I suspect that is not really true, as I have witnessed so much kindness all around me since the fire. It inspires me to be a better person and to "give back" in whatever way I can.

January 7-8, 2012
Wonderful rides on Nikki the past few days. This morning was cold, so there was a bit of squealing and bucking on the lunge! But as usual, she was delightful under saddle, and she did some excellent lateral work. Suki has been in a good mood, and her graft area looks great! I posted a photograph of it on FB yesterday and received an overwhelming response to her progress!

* When horses are wearing shoes, the snow becomes balled up in the foot creating an ice ball. This makes them look as though they are walking in high heels and can lead to slipping and injury. Snowball pads are typically a rubber covering that fits between the hoof and the shoe, preventing this from happening. Although ice can accumulate in the hoof of a horse without shoes it doesn't seem to get stuck and make a huge ball.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

December 2010

As we roller coasted through the wound healing, the suggestion of a skin graft had once again been raised. While Suki was at New Bolton the veterinarians had suggested that this might be necessary for some of the burns. But we were well over a year past the fire, and I guess I thought that the area would just heal on its own, as it seemed to come close on numerous occasions. When Dr. XX saw Suki after the big roll, he too said that we might consider a skin graft if the wound continued to open. I think that it would have healed better if the burn had been in a different location. The top of a horse's back is difficult to bandage and of course there is the rolling.

The photograph below is a view of the wound after another roll and a fresh cleaning, December 2010. With daily maintenance and the prospect of heavy blanketing to help protect it I was a bit more hopeful that healing was possible.





Without an indoor arena, Nikki was getting the winter off from work. The footing in the arena was becoming too hard and consistent riding would be impossible. She was only three, so Heather agreed that it was fine. My barn time consisted of Suki's wound management and grooming, and of course grooming and playing with Nikki. This would be the first winter of blanketing for her, so I had started to acclimate her to the blanket.



Whenever I had Suki on crossties, Nikki would stomp and kick the stall door demanding for equal attention. Similar behavior from Suki when Nikki was on crossties. Clearly Nikki was a diva in training, taking the cue from her big sister! Love those mares! Occasionally, weather and footing permitting I would lunge each of them to keep them from being bored. Both girls had daily turnout, all day in a large field so I knew that they were getting enough free play.

December also includes a conference for me, so Lori agreed to do all of Suki's care and groom Nikki a few times while I was away. It made me feel more comfortable knowing that they were taken care of. Suki was still fairly high maintenance at that time so I was extremely grateful to have Lori's help!


January 5, 2012
Suki had her feet trimmed. This is the second time with the new farrier. Her very bad experience several years ago has left her worried and anxious with new farriers and the first time that J trimmed her feet she was quite antsy. Usually the farrier comes to the barn on a weekday while I am at work, and Christine holds Suki for me. This time it coincided with my nightly visit, so I was able to stand with her. Instead of just a regular lead rope I used one with a chain over her nose just in case she became unruly. J. spoke to Suki and patted her neck and she seemed to relax. Fortunately she no longer wears shoes so the appointment doesn't take very long. But no worries this time. Suki was an angel and the trimming went smoothly!

Nikki had another crazy time on the lunge (after 2 days off and cold temperatures) but was wonderful under saddle. Since she was not ridden last winter I wasn't sure what her "winter personality" would be. Many horses are a bit more up in the colder temperatures and that appears to be the trend with Nikki. But she is only four, and that may change as she matures. Warmer days are ahead, so hopefully she will be more quiet!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A chance to talk about Suki

During my conversations with Dr. Fugaro about Suki's recovery throughout the year he asked if I would be interested in giving a talk to one of his equine science classes at Centenary College in New Jersey. The topic would be Suki's case from the owner's perspective. All of the students were riders and many horse owners as well. But the course was from the medical side, and none of them had ever experienced an injury like Suki's.

A few months after the fire Dr. Fugaro had asked me for photographs of Suki’s injuries and permission to show them to his classes. I knew that this was a unique case, and as with the veterinary students at New Bolton, this would be a wonderful experience. The opportunity for Suki's experience to help burned horses in the future was important to me.

The class would be in October, a week after I returned from Milan for a conference. I had to prepare a Power Point presentation and talk that would last for 30 minutes, allowing time following the talk for students to ask questions. My initial reaction was whoa! 30 minutes?? how am I going to do that? My husband told me that it would be easy for me talk about my favorite topic (HORSES!!) for 30 minutes. So funny, that man. Well, he was actually right (not that I would tell him that). I went through the photographs and created slides to tell the story then wrote a commentary to refer to.

I was a bit nervous the day of the talk and woke to a thick blanket of fog and a 2 hour drive in the predawn hours. Because of course when I asked what time the class started it was an 8 o'clock class, not a noon start! Dr. Fugaro had extended the invitation to anyone on campus, not limiting it to just the students taking that course. Great, I thought, a crowd! Now I have to give presentations for my job, but the thought of talking to a room full of college students was a little intimidating! Then I thought about how this was an early class, and college students are notorious for not wanting to get up early. Well, I was wrong. The room was fairly full even at that early hour. Now for my other fear: will anyone even CARE what I have to say?

Thankfully, the talk went well. The audience appeared to be interested and asked a lot of questions. Ultimately the whole hour for the class was used! The questions were everything from my feelings at the time, to financials, to future for Suki. They were engaged, and I had a blast! Dr. Fugaro asked if knowing what I know now, would I do it again. Without hesitation I said "Yes, absolutely". That reply drew laughter. My explanation included the fact that although Suki's injuries were extensive, she did not suffer any of the potential set backs and secondary problems. Her pain was managed well, and she seemed her happy normal self throughout the ordeal. I was prepared at any time, to make the decision to euthanize her if necessary. Well, I say that now, but I would probably have had to be heavily medicated if that became necessary.

Before I left one of the students asked if Suki had a FaceBook page. She did not. "Well, don't you think she should? Then we can all follow her progress." So, I started the page shortly after: Suki the horse: burn survivor.

By October 2010 Suki was looking really well. She had a dappled coat, additional hair growth and thanks to the Elta, the skin was looking better as well. In fact, the skin of the areas without hair or just a bit of peach fuzz had actually begun to develop a darker pigment. It did not feel like scar tissue, but seemed strong and less sensitive than when it was pink. Suki still wore a fly sheet and bandage over the burn on her back, plus sunscreen on her face. I intentionally kept her mane long, to cover the area on the right side of her neck that did not have full hair growth. Not that pulling her mane would be so much fun....in fact, sedation is usually required! (Suki, not me!)

These photos are from October 2010. Doesn't she look great!! (that's Nikki walking up behind her)