Doctors in Veterinary, Human Medicine Team to Give Burned Horse a Second Chance

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“This is amazing to say the least, & the owners of Northstar obviously love him like one of their own children; like I do my horses! Some owners would have just had him put down, but not Northstars parents! I truly hope all this works & Northstar will soon be able to go out into a field, lay down & have a good roll. I hope the bastards that set fire to him experience the same injuries at some point, however it happens, I just want them to feel what burn pain is; so may they rest in Hell!”

COLUMBUS, OhioThe unlikely pairing of an equine veterinarian and a burn surgeon is providing a second chance at a normal life for a horse that was doused in flammable liquid and set on fire late last summer.

Northstar, purposely set on fire, perpetrators not found

The Ohio State University doctors and their teams have partnered to perform two skin graft procedures on the American Paint Horse named Northstar, who suffered severe burns to almost half of his body when the abuse occurred.

The same instruments used in a typical human burn surgery were used for the horse’s grafting procedures. The clinicians removed ultrathin sheets of skin from Northstar’s chest and expanded them with a meshing tool before placing the grafts across an enormous wound spanning the horse’s back.

When he arrived in Columbus on Sept. 5, Northstar had exposed bone at the base of his neck as a result of the burns. Skin damage extended from his neck to the base of his tail and along both of his sides. No suspect has been identified in the case.

The doctors’ collaboration – not to mention the unusual size of the back wound – has provided a rare learning experience for both clinicians and their colleagues.

“There’s been a lot of trial and error with the challenges of how to bandage him, what the most appropriate antiseptic is for cleaning the wound bed, and the biology of burned tissue in a horse,” said Samuel Hurcombe, assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences and the leader of Northstar’s care team.

Veterinary experts got the healing off to a good start with relentless wound management, a series of smaller skin grafts and the implantation of cell cultures in the wound bed. These procedures were performed to bring top-layer skin tissue to the central area of the expansive wound bed on Northstar’s neck and shoulders, where all his skin had burned away.

Surgeons treat horse like human burn victim

To address the large wound across the horse’s back, Hurcombe consulted longtime trauma and burn surgeon Larry Jones at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. The two observed one another’s surgeries and studied human- and veterinary-medicine journal articles before teaming to accelerate Northstar’s care.

Jones, associate professor of clinical surgery and director of the Burn Center at the medical center, led the two larger skin graft surgeries. Early on, he encountered a significant challenge: how deep to set the tool that would peel off the donor skin.

“We want to take the top layer of skin but we also need a portion of the second layer, the dermis,” he said. After Jones consulted with Hurcombe and the two conducted more research, “I knew I had to take a graft that’s about twice as thick as one I would take if I were operating on a human.”

The team then ran the graft through a mesher that cut holes in the graft skin and allowed for expansion of the graft to about four times its original size. “When the graft takes, the holes will fill in from skin cells growing from the edges,” Jones said.

They dressed the wounds with bandages containing medical-grade silver, which functions as an antibiotic, to speed healing of the grafts and the donor sites.

At this stage of the horse’s recovery, more than half of the initial wound is healed, with the repair resulting from both the various skin grafting procedures and normal closure along the edges of the damaged skin.

Burn victim, set on fire

Northstar will likely undergo a series of additional sheet graft surgeries to completely heal the wound. Multiple grafts are often required for extensive human burn injuries, as well.

“It’s a slow process but even in the time we’ve been caring for him, he has made remarkable progress,” said Hurcombe, a specialist in equine emergency and critical care. “From a welfare standpoint, his psychology is great and after what he’s gone through, the fact that he is still so trusting of people is pretty amazing.”

While he initially appeared to be a dark horse for recovery, Northstar persevered through weeks of daily cleansing and removal of dead and infected tissue followed by the application of antiseptics, honey, aloe and silver sulfadiazine cream, a common human burn treatment, to his damaged tissue.

In yet another application of human medicine in veterinary care, the team has treated Northstar with gabapentin (sold under the brand name Neurontin), a medication used for neuropathic pain in humans, to treat the severe itching and nerve-related pain that is typical in burn patients as they recover. “I take this medication for pain, I really hope it’s helping Northstar!!”

Northstar, who turned 7 in January, is a “young, naughty boy” and would love nothing more than to toss himself to the ground and roll on his back to scratch that persistent itch, Hurcombe said. So the horse is gently tethered to keep him standing and he wears a cradle that immobilizes his neck several hours throughout the day. He is also covered in bandages and wears what is called a full-body “sleazy” covering that is typically seen on show horses.

The clinicians hope that Northstar will have a complete layer of skin coverage by his 8th birthday. The road ahead is a long one, both physicians acknowledge. The location of his back wound is a tricky one to treat because even with secure bandages from his neck to his tail, the horse anatomy in the location of the burn is such that Northstar’s every movement slightly disturbs the grafted areas.

“His skin graft take is a little less than what I am used to in humans,” Jones noted. “But as Dr. Hurcombe reminds me, considering his hospital bed is in a barn, he is doing very well.

“I view Northstar in the same way as I do any of my other patients. I just want him to get better and go on and live his life as a horse.”

Northstar’s owners live in northwestern Pennsylvania, where police have investigated the burning incident as a criminal case.

“All the owners want is for him to be happy, pain-free and able to live his life with his pasture mates,” Hurcombe said. “He is bright and alert, he interacts with people and he can eat and drink and do all the things that a horse can normally do as far as function. And he has been telling us through his behaviors that he wants to live. ”

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My Apologies For The Lack Of Posts: It’s A Right Pain!!

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Hi folks

I do sincerely apologise for the lack of posts, & thought it time I explain my situation as the posts may have to stop for a while; believe me, I feel terrible for letting the animals down by not posting their stories…but there is nothing I can do as yet!.

Hopefully if all things go to plan, I should be back to posting several stories a day, around August time, so I do hope you all will wait for me! Being stuck in a dam wheelchair means there is little I can do regards animal advocacy…but by doing this blog, posting news stories etc. It has become my own little online fight against animal abuse. Not being able to post what & when I like is very frustrating, plus I feel I am letting you; the readers down!

As some of you know, I’ve suffered with chronic back & leg pain since a horse riding accident in 1999, that was neither mine nor my precious horses fault. (I keep meaning to write the story of how my horse accident happened & put it in the about me page, but I never get the time to write it) However, I have had several failed back surgeries, over the course of the years, to deal with my prolapsed discs & Arachnoiditis (nerve damage); along with every other type of remedial therapy going! As the years have progressed, so has the pain, which has meant increasing the drugs too!. I take a huge amount of tablet morphine  plus I drink the oral morphine, like soda; for breakthrough pain! One would think I should act like I’m drunk the amount I take, but even doctors are shocked that I take so much; but still remain lucid!!

I started to have injections into my back but they only gave me a few hours of pain relief.  The only real pain relief I got was every 6 months, I would go into hospital to be hooked up to spinal epidurals for a week at a time, just to give me a break from the pain & be able to cope with the next 6 months ahead; when you have chronic pain daily, it also makes you very depressed!! Having had so many epidural infusions over the years, I kind of knew something would go wrong one day, I’ve never been one to have much luck!! Of course, I was right, I got bacterial meningitis from the epidural, not just once, but twice…how unlucky is that?? Suffice to say, I can’t have any more epidurals as it’s too risky, besides I couldn’t put myself through that again, the head pain is horrific; nor would I put my family through the worry again!

In the last 2 years there has only been one thing that I have not tried, simply because no surgeon would do it! I have travelled up & down the country seeing so many different doctors, that I had almost given up, my pain is becoming unbearable, when not in my wheelchair, I spend most of my time in bed! I have a laptop but my broadband connection is useless, so unless I can get into my office to work on my desktop pc; no posts get done, apart from when my daughter has posted some for me, whilst I was in hospital last Christmas!

But, at last, my luck seems to be changing! About 3 months ago, my surgeon said he had arranged for me to go up to Middlesbrough to talk to a surgeon at the Middlesbrough spinal trauma unit. After a long discussion about risks, primarily paralysis etc. & more MRI scans; he has agreed to put a morphine pump in my back, providing there are no complications whilst he is actually doing it, as I have another tube that goes into my tummy, certain organs don’t work as they should…that’s as a result of the failed surgeries too! There is only one draw back…I have to come off ALL the oral & tablet morphine I currently take, or else I won’t get any benefit from the pump. The Morphine delivered by the pump will be concentrated & go directly into the spinal area giving me more pain relief  than any tablets I take at present.


The thought of coming off my morphine by 10 mg a week was & still is very daunting & very painful. But…considering I was taking 560 mg per day, when I started, as of today I have managed to get to 280 mg of morphine a day! I’m quite impressed with myself; although in bloody agony. Plus no oral morphine (well I’ve had just a little) for breakthrough pain but, nothing like I used to. 

Obviously my pain is increasing, the less morphine I take, which is the reason for the lack of posts. Pain dictates my every move, & I still have a long way to go yet, before I reach zero, reducing my morphine by 10 mg a week, that’s if I can actually get that far!! Perhaps once I stop taking it, I might start to feel a little better in myself, morphine has a lot of side effects. I guess this is a little like going cold turkey!!

However, I must remain positive, I have finally been given a chance to have a morphine pump fitted, which will hopefully give me less pain, plus not taking so many morphine tablets, has to be a bonus; they are not good for your body or brain!! So I must press on, in the hopes that I should have a much better quality of life. I’ll still be in the wheelchair, that’s for life, but if I can get my pain to a level whereby I can leave the house again & see my horses…I will be ecstatic! Plus I promise to post as many news stories as is possible !! 🙂


Another Update On Kenneth – Dog whose snout was sliced off.

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“Another update on Kenneth, he looks great, I always knew he was going to be good looking, so pleased he has his cute face back”

“Remember what he looked like this before the operation….

“Someone had sliced right through his snout with a very sharp knife or machete. The poor dog wandered for several days before a kind person rescued him. The perpetrator has still not been found either…nasty viscous pig…to purposefully do that to a dog, then kick it out onto the streets!”

Photo original description from Dr. Guille

“Kenneth with his Innocent look….before trying to steal his neighbours food through the cage….”

UPDATE on Kenneth; October 17, 2012, From Dr. Guille Zialcita:

“We have removed his fluids for the mean time as we would like to give him a bit more freedom to move around.

Also we have discovered that he has been able to pull a couple of his stitches on the hard palate today and thus we will be scheduling him for another surgery to repair the tissue that is separated because of his movement.

Unfortunately this is a common complication in oral surgeries because the dogs are bothered by the sutures inside the mouth and their tongue plays around with the suture,and we were expecting some form of complication, the surgery will be scheduled for this Saturday, October 20 , 2012

We will post the updates daily on his progress, but he continues to improve daily and he is wanting to play more and more.”

“Many thanks to all who donated, you helped to give this dog back his good looks…It sickens me to think how anyone could hurt a cute face like. “

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