Saving Zip

Saving Zip

With the help of UF veterinarians, horse survives having chest impaled by metal post

By Caitlin Hartley

Veterinarians Chris Sanchez and Andrew Smith helped save Zip./Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Cheryl Rolfe’s Fourth of July wasn’t filled with fireworks or barbecue. Instead, she spent her day in panic as she raced her 15-month-old colt, Zip, to the UF Large Animal Hospital.

After a tragic accident, Zip’s chest was impaled by a metal fence post, which led to a three-month stay at the hospital full of surgeries and close calls. Because of Andrew Smith, D.V.M., a large animal surgery resident, and faculty members David Freeman, M.V.B., Chris Sanchez, D.V.M., and Robert MacKay, B.V.Sc., Zip is finally home in Lake City on a steady path to recovery.

Zip was in his stall when Rolfe’s neighbors let their pet pig loose in the pasture next to hers. Rolfe’s barn is lined with boards about 5 feet high with a metal fence post right outside the stall wall. Her other horse, a gelding with poor eyesight, shares the barn with Zip

“When the gelding saw the pig, he freaked and went tearing past the stall Zip was in,” Rolfe said. “Zip had his head down, and when he heard the gelding come tearing up from behind him, he instinctively bolted forward.”

Zip ran into the stall boards, and they broke. The now exposed metal post pierced Zip’s side, puncturing his chest wall.

“I didn’t think we were ever going to get to the vet school,” Rolfe said. “He had a big hole in chest. I was very worried and scared.”

Smith said the metal post punctured Zip’s right thoracic cavity and fractured one of his ribs. His condition worsened after both of his lung lobes collapsed. The following morning, surgeons operated to remove rib fragments and attempt to close the wound. Several tubes were then placed in Zip’s chest to continuously expel the air trapped in his chest.

After the surgery, Rolfe and Smith hoped for a full recovery, but Zip’s condition worsened.

“It seemed like every time we started talking about making arrangements to bring him home, he would get worse again. So, they ended up taking him back into surgery,” Rolfe said.

For the next few weeks, every day was a battle and Smith based each next step on Zip’s mood.

“A few weeks after his second surgery and countless chest tubes later, he actually turned a corner,” Smith said. “After a month of treating him, you could tell when he had a bad day or a good day. You could always tell with Zip. He had a great attitude even when he was down and out. After surgery, I knew he had a fever, but he’s telling me he still wants to live, so that’s the way we treated him.”

Zip/Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Zip, now 20 months old, made the trip home and is improving every day. He finished his antibiotics and continues to gradually build his strength. Rolfe said she is grateful for the hospital’s unwavering dedication to saving her “baby.”

“It was one of those kinds of extraordinary cases,” Rolfe said. “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong and then in spite of it, he managed to survive. He’s just an amazing colt, and I just cannot tell you how great the entire medical team was. They are wonderful people.”