A small sliver of bone was keeping hope alive for 7-month-old Kegger when the horse arrived at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
The young colt had suffered an extensive crushing injury to his right hind leg after he kicked through the boards in his stall at home and his leg became stuck. The injury cut off blood supply to the bone, and if the bone were to die, it would mean Kegger may never walk and euthanasia was likely.
With the life of the bone, and thereby the young horse, hanging in the balance, WSU equine veterinarians performed a life-saving surgery and provided rehabilitation to Kegger for more than two months.
The freak accident happened on a Sunday in October, a morning which Tamara Michalak, Kegger’s owner, remembers well.
“I came out in the morning, and I saw his leg through the stall,” Michalak said. “I told my husband to get outside fast because we needed to cut him out of the stall.”
Within an hour Kegger was free and a veterinarian was tending to his wounds. Due to his exposed bone and the chance the bone could die, Kegger was closely monitored. A week later it was clear significant damage was done.
Exposed portions of Kegger’s cannon bone, effectively the horse’s “shin” bone between the hock and ankle, were dying and if the healthy bone remaining were to snap, Kegger would need to be euthanized on humane grounds.
Michalak, already having lost two foals in recent months to sepsis and colic, packed up Kegger and made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to WSU.
Dr. Denise Mc Sweeney, an equine surgery resident who tended to Kegger at WSU, admitted the odds were against the colt.
“We knew that the prognosis was very guarded however we didn’t know for sure what his chances of survival were, as we had never managed bone loss as extensive as this, nor could we find reported cases like his in any journals.” Mc Sweeney said.
Following an extensive work up, a CT of the limb was performed. Kegger had two large chunks of dead bone, also known as sequestrums, which were only separated by a sliver of healthy bone at the core.
To regenerate new bone, the sequestrums had to be removed, however first they needed time to fully detach from the healthy bone. A cast was placed on the lower limb with the intent of protecting and supporting the leg whilst the sequestrums continued to loosen. After a week, the sequestrums had adequately freed themselves.
Kegger’s weight was now solely on the bit of healthy bone bridging together his cannon bone. WSU’s equine surgery team took Kegger to surgery and removed the sequestrums before placing a transfixation pin cast. This involved placing metal pins through the healthy bone above the injury and building a cast around the leg, allowing the pins to protrude and bear the weight through the limb.
“We wanted to keep his weight off the bone. The pin cast allowed the damaged part of the leg to be suspended and non-weight bearing while new bone regenerated,” Mc Sweeney said.
The pin cast prevented Kegger from putting more weight on his supporting hind leg, which can cause a crippling disease known as laminitis.
“I’ve never seen a horse lose so much bone, but he has done exceedingly well and has continued to regenerate and produce new bone where we removed the sequestrums,” Mc Sweeney said.
She said the ending of the story would have been very different if Kegger was a full-grown horse, but his light weight made the surgery and recovery possible, along with Kegger’s wonderfully good nature.
The cast was removed after two weeks and Kegger was gradually transitioned through further casting and bandaging before being discharged home.
Michalak now is keeping tabs on Kegger back home on her ranch in Oldtown, Idaho, where she manages Five Star Gypsies, a small farm that specializes in breeding gypsy cob horses like Kegger, who is her next stallion prospect.
Kegger isn’t out of the woods just yet, as he is still on stall rest while he regenerates bone, but Michalak is thankful to have WSU as a resource. “They did everything they could to try to save him, and I have had nothing but great experiences through the whole process,” Michalak said.