The Gift of Sight

It seemed like a little scratch. His eye was only a tiny bit swollen. Veterinarians said use the ointment a few times per day and he should be in good shape in about a week.

Four antibiotics later and weeks of frustration by my local vets-- and they so did try--my horse Bernie was referred to the Cornell University Equine Hospital in Ithaca, N.Y.

Why such a drastic decision, and why a hospital so far away?
1)Bernie only has one eye. He lost his right eye several years ago before he came into my life.
2)His infection involved a very resistant corneal fungal infection.

Once at Cornell, a subpalpebral lavage medicine delivery system was installed so the liquid medications went directly onto Bernie's eye. After several days of trying to treat the fungal infection medically, Bernie had eye surgery under general anesthesia. Eric Ledbetter, DVM, and colleagues at Cornell University removed a deep "cone" of infection from Bernie's eye and covered the surgery site with donor tissue from his conjunctiva (the pink tissue surrounding the eye).

Bernie spent 11 days at Cornell. Ledbetter and Bernie's team saved his vision, and I am forever in their debt. I could not ask for more responsive and personal care.

Once home, Bernie's after-care included medication every six hours, stall rest, plus several rechecks at Cornell. That six-hour drive became a routine part of our lives.

As of March 2006, Bernie's prognosis was "very good," and he is off all medications and has returned to full turnout. I began riding him lightly in late January. My fingers are still crossed since fungal infections are so unpredictable.

In addition to my gratitude toward Cornell, I want to thank Bernie for being a wonderful patient. His cooperation and patience were major keys in his treatment. On one recheck trip, the poor guy even had to spend a night on the trailer due to unexpected snow. And he still loads and trailers like a pro.

You might ask: Why all of this for a teenage, off-the-track Thoroughbred? Because of that special bond between horse and rider. I never thought twice about saving Bernie's eye; no wonder his show name is Something About Bernie.

The lessons I learned from this experience are that if an eye infection does not resolve--or look much improved--in a week, then seek an ophthalmologist or at least ask your veterinarian to take samples of the infected area for further study. Usually your local veterinarian can set up an appointment with a local small animal eye specialist (apparently many eye specialists will examine small animal and equine eyes). They can at least take a look, review samples, and refer you to a large animal facility, if needed. With fast action, often these infections can be treated with medication at home.

--Paula Bollinger and Dr. Eric Ledbetter

Editor's Note: Paula Bollinger is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism and has 15 years experience in the marketing field. She is also an amateur dressage rider and has successfully shown in open and schooling events with her Morgan D�j� vu Debonair. Paula and Bernie hope to show first level by fall. Eric Ledbetter, DVM is a veterinary ophthalmology resident at Cornell University. He graduated from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and has completed internships at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and the Animal Ophthalmology Clinic in Dallas, Texas.

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