Paralyzed Foal Recovering after Surgery, Therapy

A once-paralyzed foal is now up and running about with the help of an equine "walker" following a groundbreaking surgery to remove a cyst from the spinal cord, according to the treating veterinarians in Belgium.

The Boulonnais draft horse filly, "Vittel," underwent surgical laminectomy of the L2/L3 vertebrae at one month old on July 3, one week after being diagnosed with a fluid-filled cyst in the vertebral canal which was compressing the spinal cord. Intensive rehabilitation has including standing and walking therapy with the aid of a pulley and sling system--nicknamed the "Vittel-walker"--every two hours, according to the chief physiotherapist, Patrick Herbots, DVM, animal physiologist at the University of Ghent Veterinary School.

Walker system used in filly's therapy

Vittel tries out her walker for the first time.

Canine neurosurgeon Steven De Decker, DVM, assisted by equine veterinarian Jeroen Declercq, DVM, was called in to carry out the foal's surgery.

"This is the first surgery of its kind in equines, to our knowledge," Herbots said. "To ensure the maximum possibility of success we chose to bring De Decker on board because of his significant expertise in this kind of procedure in dogs."

Vittel was born healthy but suddenly developed hind limb paralysis and urinary incontinence at three weeks old. She showed leg movement one week after surgery and was up walking with the walker three weeks later. Urinary incontinence resolved after six weeks.

"We're very proud of Vittel's progress," Herbots said. "She is gaining about 5 kg a week and acts like a normal filly. She's a fighter."

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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