02/15/2002 12:00AM

Rare procedure saves mare's life

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Cee Dreams, the winner of the 2001 California Cup Matron, is fighting for her life in a northern San Diego County equine hospital after recently undergoing surgery to have her lower right foreleg amputated.

The leg was amputated below the knee two weeks ago after she lost circulation because of injuries to her suspensories and sesamoids suffered in a workout at Santa Anita Jan. 18.

The decision to amputate the leg and not euthanize the 6-year-old Cee Dreams was made by owners Frank Alesia, Joe Ciaglia, and Mike Mellen. Alesia describes the developments in the last month as "heartbreaking."

Currently, Cee Dreams is at San Luis Rey Equine Hospital in Bonsall, Calif., where she is being closely monitored. Veterinarians at the hospital say she could be fitted with a prosthesis within four to six weeks.

The hope among the owners is that she can be saved for breeding, although at this point that is far from a certainty.

"I don't want to get into whether we can breed her," Alesia said. "I want to get into, Can she have a good life? We're hoping and praying."

The surgery was conducted by Dr. Barry Grant, a partner in the hospital with Joe Cannon.

Dr. Steve Trostle, an associate at the hospital, says that Cee Dreams has been outfitted with a makeshift prosthesis made of four-inch PVC piping that allows her to stand. She is walked briefly in an aisle between stalls on a daily basis, he said.

"The primary concern is controlling infection at the stump," Trostle said. "Her attitude is really good and her appetite is good. She's been fitted for a permanent prosthesis but that takes awhile to be made. Until the swelling gets out of the leg and the muscles atrophy, we won't concern ourselves with that."

Trostle described the amputation procedure and prosthesis as "very uncommon".

"I think Dr. Grant has been in practice for 35 years and he's probable done as many as anyone else," Trostle said. "I think he's done no more than 40."

Cee Dreams was injured a month after she finished fourth in the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park on Dec. 15. Trained by Peter Eurton, her final stakes win was the California Cup Matron at Oak Tree on Nov. 3. The $150,000 race was the most prestigious win of a career that included 11 wins in 40 starts and earnings of $433,318.

Although the injury was immediately known to be severe, there was hope that surgery would allow her to be bred this spring. The outlook changed when she took a turn for the worse in late January.

"She had lost blood supply from about the level of the mid-cannon bone to the rest of the leg," Trostle said. "Without blood supply, there was no option for anything to heal. The options were euthanasia or amputation. I think it takes a really dedicated owner to deal with an amputated horse."

Trostle says Cee Dreams will require constant attention throughout her life.

"It's a disability that needs to be monitored," he said. "She has to have a good even temper. She has to be willing to be worked around. If a horse is excitable, they are not as good a candidate. All the hour-to-hour judgments that are made, it can be a difficult."

Alesia says that Cee Dreams's condition is a constant concern. Alesia is the lead member of the partnership and has a 50-year involvement in racing, dating back to the early 1950's when his family raced horses at Arlington Park.

He remains unsure whether the amputation was the right decision.

"It's heartbreaking for all of us," he said. "I've seen so much suffering with horses that my initial instinct was to put the horse down. But this is a partnership and I have great respect for my partners.

"I call every other day. It's still a heartache for me. I'm still saying, Are we doing the right thing here? I guess time will answer that question."