Updated on 02/17/2013 2:11AM

Rachel Alexandra's condition "very serious" following surgery

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Barbara D. Livingston
Rachel Alexandra, 2009 Horse of the Year, emerged from surgery in serious condition on Thursday after complications from foaling.

The condition of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra remained “very serious” on Thursday afternoon following surgery the prior night related to foaling complications.

“I think right now, it's too early to say [what the long-term prognosis is],” said Dr. Brett Woodie, the attending surgeon on the case at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. "We'll just see how she responds to treatment and take it pretty much one day at a time."

The 7-year-old Medaglia d'Oro mare delivered her second foal, a Bernardini filly, at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday at owner Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Farm near Lexington. The filly weighed in at 140 pounds, Stonestreet's largest of the season to date, and farm manager Garry Megibben termed it a "tough birth."

Rachel Alexandra began to act distressed around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and was off her feed. An examination on the farm revealed excess fluid in the mare’s abdominal cavity, possibly signifying an infection. The decision was made to ship Rachel Alexandra to nearby Rood and Riddle for exploratory surgery.

During surgery, doctors discovered that Rachel Alexandra had a damaged area in her small colon, injured during foaling, which led to a bacterial infection.

“She had a section of her small colon that lost its blood supply,” Woodie said. “[That] led to compromising the integrity of the intestinal wall, which led to bacteria gaining access to the cavity.”

Surgeons removed the damaged section of the small colon and successfully re-attached the two remaining ends. They also performed lavage, rinsing the area with fluids to flush bacteria from the abdominal cavity.

The mare emerged from the anesthesia with no complications at about 3 a.m. and was on her feet Thursday.

Rachel Alexandra is currently receiving intravenous antibiotics, fluids, and nutrition, along with anti-inflammatory drugs and medications to aid in the prevention of scar tissue in the abdominal cavity. She is also continuing to have lavages through drains placed into her abdominal cavity in an attempt to flush out bacteria and inflammatory cells.

“She's doing as best as we can expect at this stage of her recovery,” Woodie said.

Rachel Alexandra's filly returned to Stonestreet on Wednesday. The filly was placed under the care of a nurse mare and is in good health.

“They just took to each other straight away,” Megibben said, adding that the filly and mare would likely be turned out in a paddock together on Friday.

Woodie said the foal's size could have led to the trauma in the small colon but that there was no way to tell for sure, adding that a large foal does not automatically signify trouble.

“[There are] foals that are born that size that don't have this problem, and we've also seen foals that are much smaller that [do],” he said.

Rachel Alexandra produced her first foal, a colt by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin now named Jess's Dream, in January 2012. Days following that birth, the mare made what was termed a "precautionary" trip to Rood and Riddle for pain management. The mare and colt returned home following a three-day stay at the facility.

Woodie said the mare's problems with the two births are likely not related.

“I don't think last year's foaling had anything to do with this year's,” Woodie said.

Woodie added that mares may or may not recover from this type of complication to carry a foal successfully in the future, depending on the severity of the trauma and any complications during recovery.

“It depends on the severity of the injury and the extent of the injury,” Woodie said. “Some horses that have bruising of the intestine don't require surgery; others require surgery; [and] with some mares, it's a fatal problem.”

As to Rachel Alexandra specifically, Dr. Bonnie Barr, internal medicine specialist at Rood and Riddle, said that it was too early to speculate about whether her broodmare career would resume.

Banke noted that Rachel Alexandra seemed “brighter” on Thursday afternoon.

“We ask people to send good thoughts and prayers to Rachel, and hope for the best,” she said.