What a difference a year makes.
At this time last year, Jessie K. Woodworth was horrified when she found one of her horses — Northstar — had been deliberately set on fire by someone, causing burns to almost half of the horse’s body while it was in a pasture near her home. The horse lost its mane and was burned down his back to his hindquarters, she said.
Now, Northstar, a 7-year-old horse, is well on the road to recovery due to specialized care which included skin grafts received from The Ohio State University’s Galbreath Equine Center in Columbus, Ohio, Woodworth said.
These days, Northstar is back in the northwest Pennsylvania area under the care of a private veterinarian awaiting further grafts once the animal fully recovers from a bout of pneumonia and an infection contracted this summer. Woodworth declined to disclose Northstar’s location.
Woodworth is calling Northstar’s recovery so far from the burns nothing short of a miracle.
“His head is up. He’s alert. He’s coping well,” Woodworth said. “He’s being allowed to be a horse again.”
Northstar’s lead veterinarian at Ohio State, Dr. Samuel Hurcombe, agrees the animal’s recovery has been phenomenal.
“Northstar has done amazingly well to have come as far as he has in a year following a horrific injury,” Hurcombe said in an email to the Tribune. Hurcombe is an assistant professor of equine emergency and critical care veterinarian at Ohio State. “Northstar has healed well enough that he is able to be outside, graze, even roll occasionally with minimal disruption to his healing, which for his mental well-being, is a truly wonderful thing.”
Northstar’s burns happened in late August 2012 while in Woodworth’s pasture in Athens Township, according to Pennsylvania State Police at Corry. Northstar was doused with a flammable liquid and set afire sometime between 7 p.m. Aug. 25 and 6 p.m. Aug. 26, state police said.
Trooper Curtis Guntrum, the lead criminal investigator on the case, said no arrests have been made and he won’t comment on specifics of the investigation.
“It’s still an active investigation and we’re working it pretty much daily,” Guntrum said, declining additional comment.
Being set on fire caused first-, second- and third-degree burns to approximately 40 percent of Northstar’s body.
Northstar was taken Sept. 5, 2012, to the Galbreath Equine Center at Columbus, Ohio, and put under the care of Hurcombe. Northstar’s treatment at Ohio State University has been paid by an anonymous donor, according to both Hurcombe and Woodworth.
While appalled at the extent of Northstar’s injuries when he arrived, Hurcombe and other specialists at the Galbreath Center have became cautiously optimistic about Northstar’s chance of recovery over time.
The reason for optimism is Northstar has benefited from the latest therapies in wound management by the Galbreath Center’s team of specialists.
Northstar has had two major skin grafts to help reduce the area of skin and hair loss resulting from his injury. Northstar also has received a series of minor skin grafts and cell-based therapy to heal his wounds.
In the cell-based therapy, Northstar’s own skin cells, harvested earlier in his treatment and grown for several weeks in a laboratory, were introduced into his most severely affected wound areas.
The goal of both the minor skin grafts and cell-based therapy procedures were the same though the techniques were different, Hurcombe said.
“Grafts are like laying sod for immediate coverage and cell-based therapy is like planting seeds for growth and eventual coverage,” he said. “Though this type of cell-based therapy has never been done in horses, we don’t foresee any harm as they are his own cells and hopeful we will see good results.”
But, the large wound on Northstar’s back required major skin grafts and the horse had exposed bone at the base of its neck as a result of the burns.
Hurcombe worked with Dr. Larry Jones, a human burn specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, for those large-scale grafts.
The two doctors observed each other’s surgeries and studied human and veterinary medicine journal articles before determining Northstar would need large skin graft surgeries.
One of the challenges for the large grafts was how deep to set the tool that would peel off the donor skin, according to Jones.
“We want to take the top layer of skin but we also need a portion of the second layer, the dermis,” Jones said.
After consulting with each other and doing additional research, Jones and Hurcombe decided to take a skin graft that was about twice as thick as what would be taken if the patient were human.
The doctors removed ultrathin sheets of skin from Northstar’s chest and belly to use as donor skin and expanded those sheets with a meshing tool before placing the grafts across the enormous wound spanning the horse’s back.
“When the graft takes, the holes will fill in from skin cells growing from the edges,” Jones said.
The wounds were dressed with bandages containing medical-grade silver, which functions as an antibiotic, to speed healing of the grafts and donor sites.
According to the doctors, the location of Northstar’s back wound is tricky to treat because even with secure bandages from his neck to his tail, the horse anatomy in the location of the burn is such that Northstar’s every movement slightly disturbs the grafted areas.
Northstar is expected to have additional sheet graft surgeries within the next year to heal the wound.
To help Northstar cope with the surgeries, the animal is being treated with gabapentin, a medicine to treat the severe itching and nerve-related pain that is typical in burn patients as they recover.
“We are extremely pleased with his healing progress but there is more work to be done,” Hurcombe said. “From a welfare standpoint, his psychology is great and after what he’s gone through, the fact that he is still so trusting of people is pretty amazing.”
The doctors hope Northstar will have a complete layer of skin coverage by his 8th birthday in January.
As for Woodworth, she is leaving Northstar’s care in the hands of the veterinarians.
“Things are going so well right now,” she said. “We’ll let the professionals handle it. They’re the ones that know best.”
What a difference a year makes.
- Local News
Trustees table revitalization plan for Conneaut Lake Park to 'end of the week'
For the second time this week, Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park has tabled action on an economic revitalization plan for the amusement park.
'Shed Down Under' set to replace burned Beach Club at Conneaut Lake Park
Greg Sutterlin has moved a storage trailer onto the site where the Beach Club once stood and plans to operate it this summer as the “Shed Down Under” — replacing the Down Under Bar that burned when the Beach Club burned last summer.
New medical clearance requirements for drivers start next month
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s new medical clearance requirements for drivers go into effect next month and mean big changes for both commercial drivers and companies, according to the Crawford Area Transportation Authority.
Rectenwald steps down as local United Way's chief professional officer
United Way of Western Crawford County’s chief professional officer has stepped down, the organization’s Board of Directors announced on Wednesday.
Push on to create ‘trauma-informed community’
Audrey Smith and Henry Nelson are trying to turn Crawford County into a “trauma-informed community,” a community where “everyone is aware of trauma and its effects, and can recognize traumatized individuals and get them help,” as Smith put it at a recent training session at the Arc of Crawford County.
Board overhaul proposal tabled by Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park
Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park have tabled action until at least today on a proposed economic development plan to revitalize the amusement park.
Area dog killer may get five years
A Union City-area man faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced later this spring in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas for using a shotgun to shoot and kill a dog at a Bloomfield Township home late last year.
Authorities mum on any update related to 2-year-old boy's shooting
Authorities continue to investigate last week’s shooting of a 2-year-old boy by his 4-year-old brother who found a loaded gun in their home while their mother slept.
Borough council signs off on LORD Corp.'s tax assistance
Borough council members completed the last approval regarding Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) for LORD Corporation property in Cambridge Springs at their regular bi-monthly meeting Monday night.
Demonstration hopes to bring awareness to Crawford County's homelessness
If your spring schedule brings you into the vicinity of Meadville’s picturesque Diamond Park between now and Friday, be sure to take a careful look at a large display of small white flags fluttering at the southern — Chestnut Street — end of the park.
- More Local News Headlines
- Trustees table revitalization plan for Conneaut Lake Park to 'end of the week'