Bella’s story — a long road back to health
For rescue horses with long-standing issues, the road to recovery, can sometimes be a long one — especially when their injuries are not self-evident. Case in point, Bella, a lovely black Quarter Horse mare that came to the Joyful Horse Project, along with another mare that needed to be saved from slaughter. Bella was only a few years old, and had seemed healthy, so she went immediately to a foster home that was interested in adopting her. It was about a year later that her foster home said they could not keep her any longer, so she came to the Balance Point for evaluation and training before being offered for adoption again.
Diagnosing Bella’s Condition
When Bella arrived at the Balance Point, she vacillated between enjoying attention and turning defensive. With her unpredictable behavior, it was up to the staff to decode her actions and figure out the underlying problems. What mysteries were hidden in Bella’s past? Was there a physical issue causing her pain, or was there a history of abuse that made her wary?
A veterinary exam showed that Bella had a sinus infection but her lungs were clear. She was treated with antibiotics and nutritional supplements designed to boost her immune system. Her sinus drainage cleared and she felt better for a couple of months, but then the nasal discharge started again and her breath smelled horrible.
At our first opportunity, Bella had a dental check-up and the equine dentist found not only a cracked molar, but pieces of the tooth had embedded into the roof of her mouth. That was surely the cause of her sinus infections!
Dental Surgery #1
We scheduled an appointment with another dentist at a well-equipped veterinary hospital because there was a chance of rupturing a vein during the tooth extraction. The surgery was about 2 hours, and the dentist could not get the root of the tooth out. The veterinarian at the hospital also said Bella would need to see another specialist to clean out the mass in her sinus cavity that showed up on x-rays. So Bella went back to the ranch to recover and went through more antibiotics. After a few months, the awful smell of rotting flesh came back along with nasal discharge.
Dental and Sinus Surgery #2
Bella then went to Texas A&M veterinary hospital so they could take a look at cleaning out her sinuses. The first thing they saw was that Bella’s teeth had shifted around the root of the broken molar and now to finish the extraction, the veterinarians would have to drill into the side of her mouth, break up the tooth into smaller pieces and then extract it. That would then leave a hole in her sinus cavity through which they could clear out whatever infected mass was in there. The doctors said the cause of the infection was most likely pieces of the fractured tooth that had calcified over time. Bella’s surgery was going to require several doctors and she would have to stay at the hospital for a week. Her treatment up to this point had already cost thousands of dollars, and A&M said they would do the big surgery for a discounted price of $1,500.
Lucky for Bella, a benefactor came forward and paid for Bella to have the critical surgery she needed. The surgery lasted several hours, but she survived and the doctors were hopeful for her recovery. After a week at A&M, Bella was finally allowed to come home. She had a silicon plug in the hole where the broken tooth had been, and she was limited to a diet of soaked food to prevent anything from getting past the plug and filling her sinuses again. As with any critical care patient, Bella was confined to a small turn out area: no grazing, no hay, nothing but mush for 2 months.
Sinus Surgery #3
Finally, it was time for Bella to go back to A&M for a recheck to see if she had healed. And again we found out that she would need another procedure! A fragment of the tooth had calcified to the wall of her sinus and was making a home for a bacterial infection.
A&M’s equine dental lab put a scope in her mouth and we were able to see that the site of the previous dental surgery was completely and perfectly healed. This was great news!
The vets then moved on the check her nasal passages and make sure there was no issue there. Another scope was passed all the way up her nose for a very in-depth look around. Again, everything was perfect. One nostril down, one to go! As the scope began to venture into nostril number 2, about 6 inches in a large, calcified mass appeared. It was clear that THIS was the residual left overs of her first surgery.
Lucky for Bella, it was time to finally get it ALL taken care of. The vets had a brief consultation before returning with a plan to remove it. It was certainly no easy task. One tried their hand at using a grabber surprisingly similar to the ones you might see at those arcade games that offer you a chance to get a toy. Similar to how those games usually go, it more or less accomplished nothing. The next vet tried a little toothbrush apparatus that attempted to scrape the mass away. This one was quite intense to watch on the screen… though it was probably not so dramatic actually up in her nose, given it was the tiniest of little brushes. This technique had a bit more success, and a final pressure wash removed the last bits. Bella was finally clear of fragments and infection. Everyone was quite ecstatic about the success.
Since returning home, Bella has developed an amazingly happy and willing disposition. She has returned to living with the herd and goes out to pasture to graze every evening. We certainly hope this is the end of her medical ordeal. But we do have one more check-up coming soon…