The story begins in 2009, when a team of Cornell clinicians revitalized a young thoroughbred mare named Dr. Sparks, becoming one of the first academic veterinary teams to perform the coil-embolization procedure. A promising athlete, Dr. Sparks’ life had fallen in danger when she developed a growing infection in her head which damaged a major blood vessel and had the potential to create life-threatening hemorrhage.
“The kind of infection Dr. Sparks had often leads to traumatic emergencies in horses,” said Dr. Norm Ducharme, medical director of Cornell’s Equine Hospital. “Once it erodes into an affected blood vessel, the only sure way to save the horse is through a minimally invasive interventional radiology procedure to stop the bleeding by closing off the vessel.”
Instead, Dr. Ducharme assisted the members of the cardiology and imaging faculty and staff used a novel approach with the Hospital’s state-of-the-art c-arm, a machine which shows radiographic images of the body in real time. This real-time imaging enabled the team to use minimally invasive techniques to guide equipment through the horse’s arteries to exactly the right spot for stopping dangerous blood-flow. With the machine’s help, they were able to prevent hemorrhage and also occlude the blood supply to the infection. Dr. Sparks soon regained her bright demeanor and was able to return to live a productive life.
Thanks to the recent acquisition of a new, more powerful c-arm, which uses less radiation to achieve clearer images of higher resolution, CUHA’s experts are better able to help horses with internal infections using precisely guided minimally invasive techniques. This work also requires a unique combination of expertise from three different disciplines: surgery, cardiology, and imaging.
“The beauty of this procedure is that you can watch in real time as you guide equipment through the patient’s body,” said Dr. Marc Kraus, a CUHA cardiologist who participated in two of the three coil-embolization procedures performed at Cornell. “Few schools have tried this because it’s difficult to image a horse’s head in real time. With the improved c-arm, we are even better equipped with the kind of advanced imaging that is needed to perform this procedure to help equine patients.”