|Pilot has new lease as winner.|
After Treatment at Penn Vet School,
Horse Gets to Show 'New' Heart
By Ashley Berke
[Special to Writers Clearinghouse News Service]
Any competitive rider will agree that one of the most critical elements in their equine partner’s make-up is that quality called “heart.” A horse with heart will run, jump and dance to its rider’s command – full of trust, courage and “bravura.” But what happens when the horse’s physical heart can’t keep pace with its emotional heart?
Deusenjaeger (stable name “Pilot”) is a 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding, bred and raised by Wendy and Marty Costello of Kent Island Sporthorses. He was the Costello’s first foal from their foundation stallion, Donavan, and holds a very special place in their hearts. Pilot enjoyed a successful career in breed shows and at Training, First and Second Level Dressage, before being sold. In 2010, he had begun Prix St. George training, one of the highest levels of international dressage competition.
Pilot’s new owner decided to redirect his career as a show hunter, and it was then that a veterinary evaluation detected Pilot’s irregular heart rhythm – atrial fibrillation. Anxious for his future, the Costellos bought Pilot back and unhesitatingly brought him to Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center for further examination.
New Bolton Center offers unparalleled expertise and experience diagnosing and treating equine heart abnormalities. Pilot’s condition – atrial fibrillation – is the most common pathologic arrhythmia of horses and can be associated with significant underlying heart disease. So it was important for the Costellos to get him a thorough cardiac examination.
Dr. Virginia Reef, world-renowned equine cardiologist and Chief of New Bolton Center’s Section of Sports Medicine, and her colleagues, Dr. JoAnn Slack and Dr. Laura Faulkner, confirmed Pilot’s atrial fibrillation with an electrocardiogram, but did not detect any underlying heart disease that might have caused the arrhythmia.
The next step was to examine Pilot while exercising. Horses with atrial fibrillation have trouble performing at maximum intensity, but as dressage does not put the same demands on the cardiovascular system that other disciplines do, dressage horses can perform successfully while in atrial fibrillation. However, Pilot’s heart rate at a slow trot rose to more than twice the expected rate of 70-120 beats per minute, and he showed evidence of a cardiac occurrence that could trigger dangerous ventricular arrhythmias causing weakness, possible collapse and even death.
The Costellos had two options for their beloved Pilot: retire him or have him undergo cardioversion via either medication or electrical stimulation to normalize his heart rhythm. Believing that Pilot still had much to offer, the Costellos chose cardioversion. Pilot was admitted to New Bolton Center in early December. Approximately 12 hours after the administration of the necessary medication, his heart rhythm returned to normal.
Cardioversion medications can have negative side effects, but at New Bolton Center, specialized equipment closely monitors blood toxicity, resulting in safer, more effective conversions. The collective experience with New Bolton Center’s specialized cardiology group, which does many conversions annually, translates to a successful conversion rate of over 90%, one of the highest success rates in published veterinary literature. This expertise means a second chance for many equine athletes who might otherwise be retired and lost to competition.
Pilot underwent a follow-up echocardiogram, which revealed a condition in the left atrium called “stunning.” This has only recently been recognized in horses after cardioversion, but is well known in human medicine and affects patients like Pilot who had an extended duration of atrial fibrillation. After a month’s rest on special medication, Pilot was re-evaluated and found to have normal atrial function. He was given the green light to return to dressage work, provided he was regularly monitored.
Says Wendy Costello, “My husband and I are forever grateful to the doctors and staff at New Bolton Center for their obvious expertise, well-equipped facility and the extra quality of caring deeply for our beloved equine family members. Pilot is not our first horse to have benefited from the good fortune we have of being nearby. I only wish that all other horse lovers had such a resource when hope might seem low or lost.”
“Pilot may not be out of the woods yet, but because we had the best advice and guidance available from our own veterinarian, Dr. Elizabeth Callahan, and New Bolton Center’s Drs. Reef, Slack and Faulkner, we are sure we have done what we could to enable him to enjoy the highest quality of life.”
Pilot’s atrial fibrillation lasted more than four months. Today, Pilot is two months post-conversion and remains in normal heart rhythm. This horse with heart is back at work and doing well.
(Ashley Berke is head of public relations at the University of Pennsylvania School Veterinary Medicine).