Saving Joey’s Sight: Home At Last

Meagan’s horse Joey is home from the clinic to continue battling corneal ulcers.

Meagan DeLisle’s beloved OTTB Joey was diagnosed with corneal ulcers in mid-July. If you missed earlier installments of this ongoing story, catch up with Week One, Week Three and Week Five.

As always, things with horses don’t necessarily go according to plan. If you remember from our last article a few weeks back, Joey received doctor approval to head home and continue his treatment from the comfort of his own stall. I waited by my phone all day for the cute coming home photos of my big bay chicken and knew when I saw an incoming call from my trainer that something wasn’t right.

Thankfully, Joey was still stable and happy. When my trainer arrived at the clinic and began going over his run-down of medications, she felt it was in his best interest that he stay for another week until some of his medications had lessened. I cannot argue with a horse professional who truly has the best interest of the horse in mind. She was worried that because of the number of medications he had to receive each day, one might be forgotten and set Joey’s healing progress back. After all we had already been through with these nasty ulcers, I agreed and decided to suffer through another week of my boy being away.

Another Test of Patience

So we set the pickup date for the following Monday and life went on. When Monday rolled around, again I was giddy and filled with excitement at the prospect of having my Joe Joe home. Again, I gulped when I saw my trainers name pop up on my phone and tried not to panic when I took the call.

“Don’t worry — it’s good news today!”

*Insert sigh of relief here*

In just a few days, this would be my view. And of course the now tubby Joey can’t be without his precious food. Photo by Meagan DeLisle

The vet tech had just gone through Joey’s list of medications with my trainer and our barn manager when Doctor Martha Huck rounded the corner to give Joey his all-clear. Upon inspection, however, she noticed that his right eye was beginning to heal over the tube causing his body to reject it. With a further look into his eyes, she requested three more days for her to wean his dosages down and remove the tubes all together.

I could wait another three days for this roller coaster to come to an end!

A Very Happy Joey

I was beyond disappointed that I couldn’t be there Thursday for the removal of Joey’s lavage tubes and to see him load up on that trailer, but my coach and the awesome team at Huck Equine Clinic were not going to let me miss out on this moment. Photos and videos were promptly sent to me showing the celebration they had of Joey’s all-clear at the clinic and boy were they cute!

Doctor Martha, Veterinary Technician Heidi, and Joey all ready to go home. Photo by Huck Equine Clinic

The phone calls didn’t stop there. Countless people at my barn reached out with funny stories and photos of Joey acting like a complete goober once he arrived back at his home at Fox Run Stables. He was obviously happy to be back and was showing off for everyone so they remembered who earned the title of hot stuff at the barn. Seven long weeks of stall time with limited hand grazing and lunging was unleashed as he galloped around our indoor arena, kicking up his heels and acting like a fool.

The Path Ahead and Reflections

Without the tubes, Joey is just receiving some oral medications in his food and a little bit of Neosporin in his eyes daily. I can begin slow and steady flat work on him, with his fly mask on, and at his follow-up check up in ten days we hope to receive the clear to return him to full work. After more than a month off, I am eager to ride my horse again but I intend on taking things slow and steady.

This is not a professional photo by any means, but this screenshot of a snapchat sent to me by my trainer definitely shows how happy Joey is to be home. Snapchat by Cassie Zimmerman

He still has some light, residual scar tissue that might affect his vision but Doc hopes that in time it will continue to thin out. What we are left with scar tissue-wise is a massive improvement on where we started, so I can’t complain. We will take our time reintroducing him to jumps and be sure to start small as he gains his muscle and stamina back. Joey came home a bit on the plump side (they fed him more than he has ever had in his life at the vet clinic and there were treats galore) so we are going to have to get him back to the level of fitness he was before. I foresee some galloping sets on the hills for us once he is feeling better.

This whole journey has been nothing but ups and downs, but I cannot believe the outcome. When Joey first received his diagnosis, Doc was very worried about the integrity of his eyes and I feared the worst. Having never encountered issues with corneal ulcers before, I reached out to the equestrian community hoping to find some peace of mind but all of the different stories just got me jumbled. That is the thing with ulcers, no case is going to be the same. The length of time which the horse had the ulcers prior to being diagnosed, the possibility of fungus, and the severity of the sore itself all factors into play. Definitely do your research if you are to ever receive this diagnosis, but try to keep an open mind. Just because one horse lost its eye or had a full recovery, does not mean the same for your horse.

I do recommend finding a veterinarian that is well versed in equine ophthalmology. I can’t explain the level of peace I had knowing that Doctor Martha specialized in eyes and when each professional to whom she would send Joey’s scans responded that they would purse the same treatments Doc Martha was, I felt more at ease. There are too many what-if’s with eyes for your veterinarian to have their own questions.

I continue to see people posting about their horses’ battles with corneal ulcers, many with worse outcomes than my sweet Joey. I am beyond thankful for the expert care he has received and the wonderful recovery he has made, but our journey definitely had its moments where I didn’t think he would be able to keep both of his eyes. I hope that people continue to read this series to gain more knowledge about corneal ulcers and feel uplifted when they see how poorly Joey’s case started and the happy ending that would follow.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go practically superglue that fly mask to Joey’s face. He will NEVER have one off again.

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