Tiny technology helps horse

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John D. Harden/DRC
Ranch Hand Rescue founder Bob Williams pays close attention to his horse, Phoenix, whom he adopted one year ago. Phoenix was found abused and neglected and was given a 15 percent chance of survival. Williams and a team of veterinarians nursed the horse back to health.

ARGYLE — An abandoned horse found one year ago by Denton County sheriff’s deputies faced euthanasia when the deputies discovered the horse had a severe injury and a bone infection.

The deputies notified Ranch Hand Rescue, an Argyle-based organization that’s known for treating injured and neglected animals that are part of criminal cases.

Ranch Hand Rescue founder Bob Williams agreed to treat the animal even though euthanasia would’ve been the cheapest, easiest option.

“When I looked into that horse’s eyes, I knew he wanted to live,” Williams said.

One year later, Phoenix the horse, who had been given a 15 percent chance of survival and an even slimmer chance to use his left rear leg again, is recovering in Argyle.

Veterinarians responsible for helping the horse recover said they hope that the methods used to save the horse open the door for more lives to be saved.

Phoenix has been placed in an outdoor pen to lessen the chance for him to reinjure himself. Williams said the horse was abused and neglected.

Phoenix survived after doctors performed surgery in May with technology never used before on a horse. The horse suffered from a torn hoof and hoof wall, a torn coffin bone and a bone infection — all in his rear left leg.

“Usually, an animal tells you when they want to be put down,” Williams said. “But Phoenix kept walking and didn’t give up on wanting to be a horse, even though he couldn’t use one of his legs.”

Argyle veterinarian John Bitter took the lead on Phoenix’s care and said at the time that Phoenix, who was 2 years old, might not survive.

However, the odds were good enough for Williams and various Ranch Hand board members who say euthanasia should only be used when there’s no hope.

Phoenix’s injuries required doctors to perform a realignment of his hoof to the ground and a digital flexor tenotomy to restore tendon flexibility. The operation was risky because cut tendons often heal with unorganized scar tissue, leaving the tendon nonfunctional and the horse’s mobility limited.

Board member Kim Thomas reached out to veterinarian Ric Redden of Kentucky. Thomas said Redden is an expert on hoof problems and he agreed to consult on Phoenix’s case.

“It took a team for all this to come together, and it’s really speaks to what people can do when they come together,” Williams said.

Redden advised officials to pursue a new approach and suggested contacting Nanofiber Solutions.

Nanofiber co-founder Jed Johnson donated the technology he developed to Williams to be used on Phoenix.

Nanofiber Solutions uses nanotechnology, or designing and manipulating materials at the submicroscopic level, to build three-dimensional surfaces on which researchers can grow cells — mimicking body tissues more effectively than other methods.

The synthetic fibers are so small that they are not rejected by a patient as foreign material.

The nanotechnology was impregnated with stem cells from Phoenix and used to grow a new tendon.

The new tendon was attached, and eight months later the horse is recovering well, officials said.

“Hopefully, this will be accepted by more people to use to save animals,” Williams said. “Initially it will be very expensive, but hopefully over time the price will go down and more people will begin to use it.”

Williams said he hopes someone will adopt Phoenix after he recovers, but he said it’s unlikely the horse will ever be ridden again because his new tendon may not be able to support the weight of a person.

“I hope we can find him a good home. Some people like horses for companionship, not necessarily for riding,” Williams said. “If no one adopts him after he recovers, he’ll become a permanent resident here at the ranch.”

JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is jharden@dentonrc.com .

RANCH HAND RESCUE

Where: 8827 U.S. Highway 377, Argyle

Call: 940-464-0985


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