Saving Joey’s Sight: 3 Weeks Into Treatment

Joey’s battle with corneal ulcers rages on.

Meagan DeLisle’s beloved OTTB Joey was diagnosed with corneal ulcers in mid-July. If you missed Part I of the ongoing story, you can catch up by clicking here!

If there is one thing I lack in life, it is patience. Showing horses has been a great learning opportunity for me because as we all know, horse shows are a constant battle against the “hurry up and wait” mentality. I thought nothing could top the torture of waiting for your class with nervous butterflies in your belly, but I was wrong. Treating corneal ulcers most definitely takes the crown of patience.

Everyone told me that this process would be long and a true test of my patience, but always optimistic, I somehow ignored the 30+ experienced equestrians who told me not to get my hopes up for a quick or cheap recovery. My horsemanship skills have definitely improved from this time out of the saddle as I begin to learn more about the equine eye and corneal ulcers, fungal infections, and something gross called yellow cellular infiltrate. I would never wish that anyone’s horse get a serious injury or illness, but you can learn a lot during the treatment time if you soak up all you can from your veterinary team.

Joey gets to enjoy plenty of baths since he is limited to just stall time and his inner pig has come out… Photo by Meagan DeLisle

It’s been a long three weeks: on top of Joey’s treatment my husband and I moved and we both continued with our multiple lines of employment. My ultimate plan to visit Joey every. single. day. quickly proved to be impossible and excessive since the clinic is an hour away from my house. Thankfully he is in the best of hands and my vet sends me photos and updates almost daily which has been such a relief as I sit at my desk and daydream of getting back in the saddle with my best friend again.

Progress… has there been any?

My vet forewarned me (like everyone else in the world) not to get discouraged if it took us a while to see progress, but I didn’t quite realize the longevity of ulcer treatment until after about week two. I guess I expected after a week of a laundry list of medication and antibiotics that we would see some sort of sign that the treatment was working — but I was wrong. After one full week Joey was about at the same stable state: the ulcers hadn’t gotten worse but they hadn’t gotten better either.

Both Joey and I were beyond frustrated, so we got creative. I continued hand walking him and allowing him to graze and get out of his stall. Luckily, a foaling stall opened up and he was able to move into a larger space where he could move around and really get comfortable. We also began to make use of the indoor lunge ring at the clinic and boy oh boy was he excited to stretch his legs… that is until the mini pony in the paddock outside squealed at him and Joey came trotting over to hide behind me.

We love our turnout time in the covered indoor lunge ring. I can’t help but notice we are beginning to look like a giraffe again… Photo by Meagan DeLisle

Week two brought the first true growth of blood vessels in the eye. Teeny tiny red lines that looked like lace along the edge of the ulcer were a good sign, according to Dr. Martha Huck-Miller, but not necessarily something to get too excited about. Every day I pried open his eye to stare into the soul of those blood vessels and beg them to extend out and overcome those icky sores in his eyes. The left eye began to improve more than the right, but still no real documented progress to write home about.

On week three, Wayne and I began our move to our new home which tied up any and all of my free time. I was devastated to not be able to visit Joey for a whole week but the crew at Huck Equine Clinic kept me regularly updated. I was pleased to hear that the blood vessels were continuing to grow inwards into the ulcer beds, which we could chalk up as a small step in the right direction. Yellow cellular infiltrate continued to be a concern in the right eye, but it didn’t stunt the growth of the blood vessels any so we monitored it closely without becoming too worked up about it.

Here you can see the ever powerful blood vessels growing in from the left corner of the eye towards the ulcer (the gray spot). Below that you can see the questionable yellow infiltrate which can sometimes be bad and sometimes just be an annoying side effect. Photo by Huck Equine Clinic

It is the hopes of our veterinary staff that in another week or two the blood vessels will overtake the ulcer beds and allow us to decrease the frequency of his medicines and potentially allow him to come home to finish out his treatment. If there is one thing I have realized in this journey, however, it is not to get your hopes up too quickly because anything can change in a heartbeat. Take it one day at a time and pray.

Highs and lows

Of course, there are always going to be ups and downs and Joey seemed to love keeping us on our toes. He lived up to his nickname as the destroyer of all things as he repeatedly tore up the lavage tubes that dispense his medicine below his eyelids and even once destroyed the pump that the clinic placed on him over night to distribute his medicines. While these parts are easily replaceable, they are not cheap at all. Each time the office told me he tore up another piece of equipment I felt someone give me a swift kick in the wallet.

We are much happier in our larger foaling stall, but it also gives us more room to destroy things… Photo by Meagan DeLisle

While I feel the financial pressure of his ongoing treatment, I did have a small blessing come my way that will definitely help ensure Joey gets the best of care. After my incident with my last horse and an injury that sent me scrambling for pennies shortly before graduating college, I knew I was going to have an insurance policy on Joey. I thought my policy only covered mortality, but lo and behold we also had a nice-sized major medical policy that will kick in and help with the costs of his treatments. I can’t thank the team at Horseworks Insurance Specialists and Frank Aubrey Equine Adjusting enough for their support and assistance through this time.

Our original goal was to have treatment done at the six week mark and I would love to see that become a reality. Three weeks without my horse has been a nightmare and I am starting to have dreams about competing him because I miss working with him so badly. Despite all of the stress related to this treatment, there have been rewards from the situation. Joey’s ground and stall manners have greatly improved and he has really begun to show his affectionate and thankful side. While it is not the opportunity I wanted, I am grateful for any time to build this bond with my four-legged friend and can’t wait to see how this rekindled relationship works under saddle.

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