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The Surgeon

Barbaro's doctor: 'We all knew this day could come'

Richardson overcome with grief after 8 months with star patient

By Sandra McKee

sun Reporter

January 30, 2007

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa.

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Perhaps it isn't surprising that the person showing the most emotion yesterday after the death of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was his surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson, the man who spent every day of the past eight months tending to his care.

While Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, lost their voices to emotion once or twice during a news conference at the New Bolton Center, Richardson seemed overcome by the loss frequently and wiped tears from his eyes.

"This is very difficult to get through," said Richardson, who performed the original life-saving surgery on Barbaro after his devastating injury in the Preakness on May 20. Yesterday, he was the one who advised the Jacksons to euthanize the horse.

"I was lucky I had a very long and complicated surgery to do right after [Barbaro's euthanization]," he said. "It kept my mind off of it. But this won't be easy. ... I knew if this day came, it would be very difficult to keep my composure."

Richardson had said only the day before that Barbaro's condition had him so worried and upset that he had not been sleeping well.

But he said yesterday: "I'm as comfortable as I'm likely to get with this decision. There have been times in the past when I've waited too long. That's not the case here."

Anticipating a question about why he and the Jacksons chose to go through the original surgery and all the subsequent surgeries and procedures to keep the horse alive if it was all for nothing, Richardson said Barbaro had many good, extra days of life.

"We all knew this day could come from the very beginning," he said. "We knew a lot of bad things could happen. But we had him for eight extra months, and most of that time he was a happy horse."

And Richardson said he thought Barbaro would recover.

"I did think many times he would make it, but, at the same time, intellectually, I knew all the challenges remained," he said.

Richardson said the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School learned a lot from Barbaro's case, but when asked for examples, he declined to give details.

"It's mostly incremental learning," he said. "Mostly surgical details. But if you're asking me if another horse came in with the exact same injury, I can say I honestly believe I'd have a better chance of saving him.

"Everyone makes mistakes," he said. "But as your typical egotistical surgeon, I want to succeed every day. But it's not an exact science, and knowing you're going to make mistakes is the way you have to live."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com