A special horse named Northstar

November 26, 2012

Dr. Vikki Scott and Dr. Sam Hurcombe with Northstar

He’s not a Triple Crown winner like Secretariat, nor a TV star like Mr. Ed. In fact, he’s just a regular horse from Pennsylvania. But Northstar has become a celebrity in his own right--and his many fans have made possible a new fund at the Galbreath Equine Center for critically ill patients in need of veterinary care and financial support.

Northstar, a six-year-old American Paint Horse from Crawford County, Pennsylvania, was deliberately doused in accelerant and set on fire the weekend of August 25. With first-, second-, and third-degree burns to approximately 40 percent of his body, he was transported weeks later to the specialized, round-the-clock care of Ohio State’s Galbreath Equine Center under the care of Dr. Sam Hurcombe, assistant professor of Equine Emergency and Critical Care.

Dr. Hurcombe and the team who admitted Northstar were appalled by the cruelty inflicted upon him, but cautiously optimistic about his prognosis. As the weeks went by, they were also impressed with his strong personality and will to live. “Northstar is a loving and sweet horse,” reported Dr. Hurcombe. “He is fast becoming a favorite patient of the hospital.”

Through the internet and social media, Northstar’s story travelled across the country and the world. Television and print media covered the story extensively, and people soon wanted to know how they could help. At Ohio State, his early care was paid for by an anonymous donor, and soon the Northstar Equine Critical Care Fund was established in honor of this brave horse, to help others in need of financial assistance for their critical care.

Northstar’s owners Bob and Jessie Woodward, who have had him since he was a foal, are touched by all the support he has received. “We’re just in awe,” they said.

Northstar has benefited from the latest therapies in wound management by the Galbreath Center’s team of specialists. He recently began undergoing a skin grafting process that will help reduce the area of skin and hair loss resulting from his injury. The team also started cell-based therapy, where Northstar’s own skin cells, harvested earlier in his treatment and grown for several weeks, were introduced into his most severely affected wound areas. Dr. Hurcombe describes the goal of both procedures as the same though the techniques are different. "Grafts are like laying sod for immediate coverage and cell-based therapy is like planting seeds for growth and eventual coverage. 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 are hopeful we will see good results.”

Dr. Hurcombe remains hopeful about his most-famous patient--and thankful for those who have supported him. “We want to send a special thank you to those who have donated to the Northstar Equine Critical Care Fund,” he says. “We love him here at Ohio State, but look forward to the day we can send him home to Jessie and Bob.”

If you would like to support equine critical care at Ohio State, please call (614) 688-8433 or give online.