Sunday, November 2, 2008

Baby Boomer Dreams - Dandy's Story - The Results

Part 1

When the results of the blood work on my Arabian horse came back, my worst fears were confirmed. Dandy tested positive for the antibodies for EPM. While a horse carrying the antibodies doesn't necessarily mean the horse has the disease, that supposedly can only be confirmed with a spinal tap.

I guess I probably have too much medical knowledge for my own good sometimes. I know the risks of spinal taps. It's the last test I'd ever want to have done on me. Knowing I was going to have to have one done of my Arabian horse felt as weighty to me as deciding my daughter should undergo chemotherapy. It was an evil that couldn't be avoided so we set up an appointment later that day.

Waiting for the vet to arrive I couldn't get over the feeling I was doing something horrible like maybe I was offering my first born (horse) in some kind of pagan ritual or something. Dandy didn't pick up on my betrayal vibes and just nuzzled me like I was the best mom ever.

Fortunately, the test was over quickly and Dandy didn't look like he was any the worse for wear. It had definitely been harder on me than on we would have to wait for the results.

When those results did arrive, I couldn't believe what we had. Dandy had tested negative on the spinal tap for the EPM antibodies. While that might sound like a good thing, it turned out not to be. Dandy fit the profile for a false negative to a tee so this negative result didn't really give us any kind of answer.

That left me with two choices. I could go ahead and treat the horse for EPM. The only way I would know for sure that was a valid diagnosis would by waiting to see if he responded to the medication. The second choice was to send him to the Washington State University Veterinary School. Since the tests had not disclosed anything conclusive if Dandy didn't have EPM, his only hope was that the docs at the university could figure out the problem.

Either choice was a risk. If we treated the horse for EPM and he didn't have it, his condition might deteriorate before we even began looking for the real problem. If we sent him to the medical school for them to figure out what he had and EPM really was the problem the horse would probably die from the disease before they could figure it out.

The biggest problem trying to decide if we should treat Dandy for EPM was the fact the horse really didn't fit the profile for the disease. Normally EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis),
also known as the possum disease, is a disease of the central nervous system that comes on suddenly and advances rapidly. Horses have been known to have no symptoms one day and to be falling down unable to walk three days later, and maybe even dead the next. Prompt diagnosis is imperative because of the rapid advancement of the disease.

Yet that isn't what happened with Dandy.My horse had symptoms over the course of a few years. With the first ones, falling in the horse trailer, the crooked tail, and his difficulty getting under himself all happening in the same early time frame when he was 4. Then it looks like advancement of the disease stopped, although it didn't get better either. Only to have a "flare-up" (or more symptom advancement) happen quickly some years later. If this was EPM it would be considered an atypical (not normal) case.

If that were true, it was reasonable to expect a false negative on the spinal tap. It would also be reasonable to expect that treatment would be more difficult. Since the horse's immune system had not be able to overcome the organism but evidently managed to keep the disease at bay for some years, the offending parasites had most likely developed strong resistance capabilities. Treatment would definitely be more difficult and recovery less likely. If Dandy had EPM, the odds were not in our favor.

Yet I decided to trust that little voice inside me that had been screaming EPM at me from the first utterance "Too much, too much, your horse, he sleep too much!" We would begin treatment for EPM immediately.
Fortunately there was a compounding pharmacy near me in Tacoma that was capable of filling the prescription required to treat this disease. We would be able to begin treatment within 24 hours.

If the horse responded to this treatment we would know for sure that he had EPM. If he didn't respond, the horse would have to go off to the university to see if they could save him. My heart was heavy knowing that I could be making a big mistake.

To be continued....................


The picture above is Dandy as a baby.

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  1. I've been waiting for you to finish this story, and it brings me back to what we went through with Gunner. He too had atypical symptoms. But in the long run, perhaps that is best?

  2. The worst feeling in the world is knowing that one of the horses has something wrong... and the vet is as unsure as you are what is wrong! No matter what you decide to do you find yourself second guessing the decision....

  3. He was a perfect baby. Wonderful picture.
    Please, MiKael, get our Dandy well!

  4. Poor baby, I agree, treat and hope that's it. What a tough decision!

  5. I agree with you that it's better to treat it and see what happens than to take a chance and send him off and maybe not get the diagnosis in time. I know it's so hard to make a decision like this but I'm sure you did the right thing.