01/29/2007 12:00AM

Pins inserted in Barbaro's right leg


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Barbaro underwent surgery on Saturday to insert two steel pins in his right hind leg in what his surgeon called the “only hope” of keeping the colt “acceptably comfortable” as he fights to recover from a broken right hind leg and severe laminitis in his left hind leg.

The 2006 Kentucky Derby winner recovered well from the procedure, according to surgeon Dr. Dean Richardson, who called the latest developments “another significant setback” in a saga that began on May 20 when Barbaro broke his right hind leg in the Preakness.

“Remarkably, his attitude and appetite were excellent overnight,” Richardson said in a statement issued Sunday morning by the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center equine hospital.

“Barbaro was taken back to surgery because we could not keep him comfortable on his right hind foot,” Richardson said. “That foot developed a deep subsolar abscess secondary to bruising when he went through a period of discomfort on the left hind foot. It is not laminitis, but the undermining of the sole and part of the lateral heel region are potentially just as serious.”

When the abscess showed signs of worsening, Richardson took the dramatic step of inserting the pins as part of a device that will bear Barbaro’s weight, and thus keep it off the right foot as it heals. Richardson described the move as his “only option.”

Earlier this month, Barbaro had shown signs of discomfort in his left hind foot, which slowly is regrowing nearly 80 percent of the hoof wall that Richardson removed in July as part of the treatment for laminitis. The subsequent development of the bruising and abscess in his right hind leg suggests that the colt might have been shifting excess weight off of the left hind and onto the right hind – a process that can itself lead to laminitis, a painful and potentially life-threatening disease.

Laminitis is a common secondary problem in horses being treated for a leg injury. Once Barbaro developed it in his left hind leg, veterinarians were concerned that, during the long hoof-regrowth period, he could become uncomfortable, shift his weight, and develop a new case of laminitis in any of his other legs.

In an attempt to shore up the strength and stability of the right hind leg, Richardson had applied a leg brace to Barbaro’s right hind last Wednesday; he removed the brace on Saturday.

“We attempted to manage the right hind foot in a cast and then in a custom-fabricated brace, but it was impossible to have access to the foot for treatment as well as acceptable stability and comfort,” Richardson said. “We elected to place his right hind in an external skeletal fixation device in order to provide the foot a chance to heal. This means that two steel pins have been placed transversely through his right hind cannon bone. These pins are connected to external sidebars that in turn are connected to a lightweight alloy foot plate. This results in the horse eliminating all weight-bearing from the foot; the horse’s weight is borne through the pins across his cannon bone.

“There is significant risk in this approach. but we believed it was our only option given the worsening of the right hind foot problem. The major risk of the external skeletal fixation device is that the bone bearing the weight can fracture. Unfortunately, we felt we needed to take this risk, because this approach offered our only hope of keeping Barbaro acceptably comfortable.”

Richardson said that the 4-year-old Dynaformer colt had “a perfect recovery from anesthesia and has been in and out of the sling since then,” referring to a body sling that allows Barbaro to rest his weight on its straps instead of on his legs.

“His left hind foot appears to be stable at this time,” Richardson said. “We remain concerned about both front feet.”

Richardson said that the veterinary team “will continue to treat Barbaro aggressively as long as he remains bright, alert, and eating.”

“This is another significant setback that exemplifies how complex his medical situation remains, because both hind limbs have major problems,” Richardson said.

Barbaro remains in intensive care at the New Bolton Center’s large animal hospital. The center has said that it will provide another update on Barbaro’s condition when additional information is available.