Filly lives after head fracture; heroic effort

Diorella survived a serious head fracture two years after receiving extensive care through the efforts of her owner Jan Vandebos.

Diorella survived a serious head fracture two years after receiving extensive care through the efforts of her owner Jan Vandebos.

A yeoman’s effort to save the filly Diorella began in the horse’s third year of life, after she flipped on the lunge line and fractured her skull.

So severely was she hurt that she writhed and seized in the dirt, unable to stand without falling back down.

It was horrifying to witness, says her owner Jan Vandebos. She had stepped away for a brief moment on June 28, 2012, and returned to find her horse, who had just been lunging with a groom, crumpled in the dirt.

But she did not flinch away from the animal she loved.

Moving quickly on what she recalls as the “worst day of her life,” she carefully checked the filly’s nose and eyes for evidence of blood, and finding none, made the decision to do everything humanly possible to save her.

“I wasn’t prepared to let her go unless I felt I had taken every avenue to save her,” says Vandebos of RanJan Racing, which she owns with husband Robert Naify. She had brought the young filly into this world to be a riding horse and was determined to save her: “I wanted to make her whole again.”

Sire: Betrando
Dam: Specific Gravity
Foal date: Feb. 9, 2009
Like a commander of a military MASH unit, Vandebos first quickly arranged to have a throng of people on scene to assist, and immediately contacted her personal veterinarian Dr. Phoebe Smith, who was on site within 20 minutes.

What followed was controlled chaos.

Diorella’s eyes darted back and forth as she tried to make sense of her world, and struggled to rise. Working quickly, Dr. Smith administered medicine to quell her seizures, as Vandebos and others tried to calm the frightened animal. “I kept thinking that if we could get her calm, and get her to the hospital, we could save her,” she says.

Diorella was anesthetized, rolled onto a tarp, and lifted by 20 people onto an emergency van and taken to Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, Calif., where she would spend the next two months in intensive care.

Diorella is released from the hospital. Her head was still swollen, and a long road to recovery awaited.

Diorella is released from the hospital. Her head was still swollen, and a long road to recovery awaited.

Dr. Erin Bryn, DVM, Diplomat of the American College of Internal Medicine, took over the filly’s care, and stood with the entire staff, who lined up outside the medical facility the day Diorella arrived.

A radiograph of Diorella’s skull, taken immediately after she was unloaded, revealed she had fractured bones at the base of her skull, causing her to have seizures, Dr. Bryn confirms.

“We treated her immediately with anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and anti-seizure medication,” Bryn says, noting that it was unusual for a horse with this degree of head trauma to make it to the hospital.

“We probably get one or two cases a year of horses who have flipped over.” Many die before they reach the hospital, or are euthanized on the spot, she says, noting that it is a rare horse to recover from such an injury.

Within 12 hours, however, Diorella was able to stand on her own!

For two months after those perilous beginnings, if a prognosis was issued, it was only in terms of whether the horse would survive. “It’s important to set the expectations low in a case like this,” Bryn says, adding, that the future ride-ability of a horse such as this is spoken of in terms of “miracles.”

Diorella was eventually led on wobbly legs over an outdoor path, which had been carpeted in case she fell, to a waiting van.

Her next stop was the J & M Thoroughbreds farm in Santa Ynez, Calif., where Greg Fanning had stepped up as the sole volunteer to help Diorella with her physical therapy.

Jan Vandebos poses with Diorella, a prized filly she could not let die from a fractured skull.

Jan Vandebos poses with Diorella, a prized filly she could not let die from a fractured skull.

“I couldn’t find a farm for her. This was before I had my farm. Nobody wanted to take a brain-damaged horse who was falling down,” Vandebos recalls. “Then a friend of a friend stepped forward and said, ‘I will help you fix her.’ ”

Greg Fanning admits he took on a project that many expected would fail.

But he never gave up on Diorella. Knowing she could fall at any point, and that it was dangerous work, he babied the filly at every turn.

“I couldn’t turn her loose, and would walk her. Her recovery took little baby steps and lots of elbow grease.”

For months he worked with her in a deep-sand arena and when she became steady on her feet, moved her to an equine exercise machine. Here, she trotted and eventually galloped. The filly stayed with Fanning for approximately six months before being moved to Vandebos’ new farm, where she was reunited with her dam Specific Gravity, purely to enjoy turnout, grazing, and idyllic pasture life.

And oh yes, there was one more little miracle: about three months ago: Diorella and Vandebos went riding!

“We had started placing her in a paddock close so she could see her friends being ridden and worked. Then we started to tack her up, and two weeks after that, I decided very spur-of-the-moment to hop on her,” Vandebos says. “We walked for about 10 minutes and then I asked her for a trot. She remembered all of her cues, and I could tell she was very proud to be a riding horse—again.”

14 responses to “Filly lives after head fracture; heroic effort”

  1. Clay Kelly

    Amazing for a thoroughbred trainer.Kudos Greg.

  2. Katjhy

    This is an amazing story. And what a Happy Ending Due to a loving owner , good Vet care and wonderful friends
    to help. Many happy days riding together.

  3. Susan Crane-Sundell

    Wow! This story is truly about dedication and love and the tenacity of greatly dedicated “horse” people. On any other farm Diorella would have most likely been euthanized on site.Instead through dedication and magnificent stubbornness on everyone’s part including Diorella’s – no one gave up! What a team you have around you Jan! Such dedicated vets, friends and new friends. The dedication Greg Fanning showed in this rehabilitative journey is incomparable.

    You really ought to write a book about this. It would give people a new perspective on equine brain trauma and a prognosis for survival.I think the horse community might like to know more about the process: the scientific, emotional and rehabilitative aspects. You must have struggled greatly Jan, right along with your very special mare. A story like this is rare but so very gratifying to read.

  4. SpotOn

    That is amazing! Thank you for the reply Jan. I sincerely appreciate it.

  5. SusanA

    What a wonderful heart you have Jan! It’s so encouraging and comforting to hear a story like this after all the bad stuff that we hear about. Thank you for your dedication to this wonderful mare…..I hope and pray she has a wonderful long life ahead!

  6. Leslie M. Bliman-Kuretzky

    Just amazing. Thank you So much for saving this beautiful mare

  7. Kathy A

    Jan, you’re amazing. The horse world needs more people like you.

  8. Debra

    Well done to all concerned! What an inspirational story…. 🙂

  9. AK

    Jan – you rock.

  10. Joell

    Jan’s commitment to her horses is superlative. She always goes the extra mile. Here’s another story where she brought a horse back when everyone else would have given up:

  11. Jan/ Springtime Farm

    She has regained full mobility. There is no evidence of brain injury.
    No head tilt, no partial eye blindness. As she became stronger, everything disappeared. She has not been on any meds since leaving the clinic almost
    2 years ago. Her therapy included a lot of hand walking and
    turnout to a large sand arena for a few hours per day.
    She was instrumental in helping to heal herself. She voluntarily walked over ground poles,
    and a small obstacle course with poles set up on the ground.
    We do have to stretch more on her left side, but her progress
    Continues to be nothing short of amazing!!!

  12. Michelle

    Amazing story! I’ve been waiting to read this one ever since I saw the “teaser” on the sidebar! A big thank you to Jan for not giving up on her, as well as the vets and especially Greg Fanning for stepping up to work with her. Happy ending!

  13. Pattie

    This remind me of the quote: Never Ever Give Up !! What an Awesome Story and What an AWESOME owner !! Thank The Lord for people like Jan & those who helped her heal her filly !! God Bless You 🙂

  14. SpotOn

    What a scary story, but with a happy ending. I do have to ask though. Is she still receiving medical care for the seizures and how is her movement at the poll? What is her long term prognosis?

Leave a Reply