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First Ever Pacemaker Implanted In Horse
As a seven-year-old Quarter Horse, Bucky had garnered his share of show ring blue ribbons. Then he started fainting.
Bucky had belonged to his Virginia owner for only six months when the fainting began. The first time she didn't realize what had happened. She had found his stall in disarray the morning after a show and thought he had been disturbed by some wild animal.
But the horse started fainting in the pasture. Once he fell into a wall and broke a tooth. He had to wear a helmet to protect his head. After the fainting spells grew more frequent, he was sent to specialists at the New Bolton
Center of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine at Kennett Square.
The diagnosis: Bucky had a complete heart block, rare in horses, that medications would not help.
Because of the lack of blood flow, his kidneys were failing and he had swelling around the heart caused by an accumulation of fluid. His only chance for survival was a technique never before performed on a horse the insertion of a permanent pacemaker to stimulate his heart action.
Dr. Virginia Reef, head of large animal cardiology, said Bucky was donated to the center for the purpose of trying the implant.
According to Reef, one of the reasons a pacemaker had never before been implanted in a horse was that with the old type pacemaker the entire chest had to be opened up. Such a thoracotomy is fairly easy in man, or even a dog, but a horse's rib cage is so small a rib would have to be removed to perform the operation.
But, a new mechanism, perfected in the last five years, allows the operation without performing a thoracotomy. Called a transvenous pacemaker, the small machine, about the size of a regular cigarette lighter, was inserted in the jugular vein in the lower part of Bucky's neck. A catheter, 85 centimeters long, was fed down the vein to the heart and its tip attached to the inside surface of the heart's right ventricle with four prongs so the bipolar electrodes which stimulated the heart could not move. The pacemaker was set at 45 beats per minute, normal for a horse.
Since the operation, the horse has had no problems. In fact, the first time he was let out, he jumped a five-foot fence to join some horses in an adjoining field. He runs, but knows when to stop. He can be ridden at a walk, trot or canter, but cannot do strenuous work.
(Reprinted from the Daily Local News, West Chester, Penn.)

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1985 - Volume #9, Issue #1