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A Miracle Recovery
By: Emily Lineberger Bridges

Springtime is my favorite time of year, although the Tennessee climate is a fickle one. My husband and I were on foal watch duty beginning the first week of March, 2000, and the weather had been unseasonably warm until we began our nightly vigil in the tack room. We retrieved our sleeping bags, snuggled into them and waited for signs of a new arrival. Our eleven year-old Half-Arabian mare was due around March 10, and although it was a little early to expect an arrival, we didn't want to take any chances. The truth was that we loved to sleep at the barn amid the peaceful night sounds of the horses.

Like many middle-aged horse lovers, I had been involved with horses a child. But with maturity came other responsibilities and horses fell by the wayside. In 1992 I came to the realization that I wanted to make more memories by which to grow old, and that raising horses was the way I wanted to spend the rest of my life.

So we moved to Tennessee with our Arabian horses, one of which was Lilli, the beautiful bay mare now due to foal. We had built a barn, complete with foaling stall, and set our sights on raising babies. The first filly was born in April of 1997, in a textbook foaling. The second filly was born in 1999 and was truly a miracle. Now we waited with great anticipation for the third to enter the world.

Each night was uneventful and we wearily trudged back to the house in the morning. Lilli was kept in a paddock free of fescue where I could observe her during the day.
I constantly checked for signs of impending labor; by this time I was reasonably skilled at recognizing muscle relaxation, sweating, pawing, colicky behavior and wax on the teats of the mare. I saw no signs of foaling as we passed the expected due date.

On the morning of March 15, I noticed that Lilli was pacing the paddock more than usual.
Instead of consuming large quantities of hay, she only inspected it and walked away.
Around 3:00 p.m. I brought Lilli into the foaling stall and wrapped her tail. I then noticed wax on her nipples and a little sweat on her shoulders. I fed her and she ate a complete meal, but this time she snatched her hay and paced, seeming very uncomfortable and agitated.

At 10:00 p.m. we turned the lights out and my husband went to the house to sleep (by this time the excitement of the nightly vigil had worn off). As soon as the barn was dark, Lilli started pacing and urinating. She would grab a bite of hay and walk; then she would stop and stand at the stall door. I watched her in the nightlight from the tack room observation window. She knew I was there, though, and made it a point to stop just where I could see her.

By 10:15 I was certain that she was going to foal, so I called my husband to come back to the barn. As he was sneaking back inside, Lilli's water broke and she lay down. She immediately stood back up and I noticed that the foal's feet were out. They were pointed in the right direction, so we both relaxed. Lilli lay down again and this time she quickly pushed the foal out. We fought the urge to go into the stall; we knew that the best thing to do is let mother and baby bond for a few minutes without interruption.

In the dim light, we could see that the foal was working its way out of the amnion, and Lilli soon reached around and started to assist. Then the foal sat up weakly. We decided to enter the stall at this point. My husband dried the baby and announced that we had a colt. In spite of myself, I had to take a few pictures of the mother and baby. I went about it quickly and Lilli didn't seem to mind at all.

The foal finally stood and nursed after two hours, and then only with assistance. I thought that this was a little odd, especially since Lilli had gone beyond her expected due date, and also because the colt was very large. But the initial imprinting went well, Lilli had expelled the afterbirth in a short time and was already munching on hay. The colt had passed meconium, moved around a bit and had taken several naps. Now we waited for daybreak and the vet's checkup.

The vet arrived early in the morning, examined Lilli and the colt and pronounced them both fit. He also thought that it was odd that a colt, especially one this big, would take so long to stand and nurse. He said that colts were usually on their feet with rapid speed, but that he didn't think it was anything to worry about. The vet conducted a test to determine if the colt received adequate antibodies from his mother's milk and the blood's protein level was fine.

I noticed that Lilli was anxious while we imprinted and when the vet examined her and the baby. In her past pregnancies Lilli had been very calm throughout and had never minded anyone being near her or the foal. This time, however, she had to be restrained while the vet examined the colt. He told me to keep a close watch on her and let him know if she didn't settle down.

On the third day, Lilli and the colt were in the paddock getting some fresh air. As I observed them from the barn, I noticed the colt attempting to nurse several times and stopping. He would just let the milk dribble to the ground. On further observation, I noticed that Lilli had "bagged up" and was streaming milk continuously. I knew that a healthy foal should keep his dam drained at all times. Something was definitely wrong.

I called the vet and explained the situation. His first thought was that the colt had been too greedy and had overindulged on mother's milk; he said that it was not uncommon for colts to do this. He was on his way to another call and said that he would call back within the hour to see how things were going.

In the meantime I brought Lilli and the colt back into the barn. I then noticed that he had watery, greenish diarrhea. I panicked, knowing that a colt can get dehydrated in rapid time. Without the ability to nurse, I recognized a dire situation. This baby was in jeopardy, and the hour I waited for the vet to call back seemed like an eternity. When I told the vet that the colt had diarrhea, he said that he was on the way. He told me to blanket the colt while we waited. We hoped for the best, but feared the worst.

When the vet arrived, the colt was standing weakly against the wall of the stall, shifting his feet back and forth. He had a dull look to his eyes, where before he was very alert. Initial examination showed no fever; the vet gave him an injection of Banamine and started an I.V. to restore fluids to his body.

Lilli was very agitated during the examination and had to be restrained. She seemed easily spooked, which was unlike her. She had always been a calm mother, but we attributed this behavior to her concern for her sick colt.

The vet left with instructions for the night and made arrangements to come out the next day. We kept vigil overnight, on pins and needles every time we went to check on the colt. Our worst nightmare was looming over us. What if this newborn didn't make it?

Early the next morning, the vet came out to find the colt in the same condition. The medicine had stabilized him through the night. We would have to take action immediately if we wanted to save this precious life.

The vet drew blood on both Lilli and the colt; he analyzed it on the premises, which saved valuable time. Nothing irregular was found. Lilli had developed a heavy discharge, and upon examination he found a slightly elevated temperature. She was given an antibiotic while the he ran another I.V. to the colt. By this time, the colt was not even attempting to nurse, but the liquid diarrhea continued. The vet said that we needed to talk.

He sat down with my husband and me and relayed the options: 1. Take the colt and Lilli to a 24-hour facility, in this case University of Tennessee; 2. He would make daily trips out to treat the colt; 3. We could learn how to treat the colt and take responsibility for his treatment; or 4. (This was impossible to consider) Put the colt down. We knew that the hospital would be very expensive, although it would be the best bet; the bill for the vet would be insurmountable if he made daily trips out; and letting the colt die was not even an outside option. Business-wise, it would have made sense, but neither or us have ever made business a higher priority than our hearts. Before we made the decision, however, we talked with the vet at great length about the costs involved for the other three choices. As the vet walked away to give us a moment to speak privately, the colt struggled to his feet and walked over to Lilli and attempted to nurse. My husband looked at me and said, "We have to save him ourselves. I can take time from work and stay at home to help nurse him back to health. If we don't try, I will never be able to live with myself".

So, the decision was made. We listened to the vet as he patiently explained and wrote down exactly what needed to be done. Not only did the colt need round-the-clock care, Lilli had an infection that the vet believed had been passed to the colt in utero. This would explain his weakness at birth, the shivering, and most importantly, his distaste for his mother's milk. I have never seen a more pitiful sight than this baby trying to drink milk and being unable to.

The first thing that the vet did was pass a tube through the colt's nose. The tube was then attached to his halter. Through this tube we were to administer electrolytes every four hours; Foal Lac milk every four hours and Pepto-Bismol every four hours, with the times being staggered so that we wouldn't overload his small stomach. We also took his temperature every four hours and he was given hip shots of DMSO and Banamine nightly. In addition, Lilli had to have her temperature monitored every four hours and was milked twice daily. We were novices in equine health care, let alone emergency care. But, I have always heard that in a crisis, you do what you have to do. For seventy-two hours straight, we both doctored and kept vigil, sometimes drifting off to sleep just in time for the alarm clock's ring.

It was heartbreaking to watch the colt shiver as he did when the cold liquids went into his stomach; on top of this, the weather had turned cold and rainy. To help alleviate the coldness of the foaling stall, my husband installed a heat lamp in each corner.

We began to notice that the colt appeared to be more bright-eyed, although he still had diarrhea and was not nursing. Each morning the vet called for a progress report and to give further instructions. After five days of administering continuous medication, the lack of sleep took its toll on us. We were trying to sneak a nap around noon when I awoke to a loud unmistakable sound - a nursing slurp! The colt got in two gulps before he walked away. We were so relieved; we knew that this was only a minor achievement and that we had a long way to go, but it was the first positive move the colt had made. At this point all tiredness left us, and we spent the rest of the day watching as he nursed several times. The number of swallows slowly increased and by nighttime he was nursing with almost normal regularity.

While we were encouraged by the colt's improvement, the vet warned of possible stomach ulcers. So much medicine had been pumped into his tiny stomach; he told us to watch him closely for signs of discomfort.

The shots that had been given nightly were discontinued, and we were glad of it. It was heartbreaking to hear the colt whine when the needle pierced his skin. With everything the little colt had to go through shortly after his entrance into the world, we were afraid that the imprinting would fall by the wayside. We wouldn't have blamed him if he never let a human being touch him again.

By the end of a week, the colt was on his way to recovery, and he was passing "cow pie" manure. He was also munching on hay, which we kept to a minimum. Lilli was back to normal also, and her laid-back manner of mothering soon returned.

While the vet was examining the colt, he asked if we had named him yet. I told him that we felt that the colt had to have been touched by an angel, and he was truly a blessing to us. So we named him Gabriel's Blessing and we call him Gaybe.

The vet removed the stomach tube, a major deal for Gaybe and for us. He also said that he felt guardedly optimistic that Gaybe would be all right. Then he gave us a big compliment. He said that a lot of people wouldn't have made the sacrifices we did for a horse, but the fact that we took on the responsibility says a lot for the kind of people we are. We were face-to-face with the loss of a precious life, but we both can say that we would do it all over again. We know this is true when we walk to the barn and hear Gaybe call out to greet us! We hear the sweet sound of his whinny and know that it was well worth it!



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