Rescued cob who ‘died’ for 45 minutes survives cancer and losing sight in one eye to return to work

  • A rescued cob who has overcome cancer and losing the sight in one eye, and whose heart stopped for 45 minutes during surgery, is back in full work a year on.

    Helen Buckley told H&H her 14-year-old gelding Paddy had to have his entire penis removed as a result of the cancer, but he has adjusted to urinating backwards, like a mare, and is now healthy and happy.

    “It’s been quite an ordeal,” she said.

    Helen, who has owned Paddy for 10 years, said she first realised something was wrong shortly after the start of the first lockdown last year.

    “There was a lot of black grease on his legs,” she said. “I thought he was being a bit mucky but it wasn’t normal. I’d also noticed that he wasn’t properly dropping his willy to wee, so something was going on.

    “We gave his sheath a good clean — and found lots of little skin tags. They felt like little nodules of grease but nothing was coming away.”

    A closer look revealed what looked like small sarcoids, “like lots of little Malteasers”. Helen sent pictures to her vet and friend Louisa Smith. A few weeks later, once non-emergency veterinary treatment could resume, Paddy went in for a biopsy, which showed the growths to be cancerous.

    “Louisa was confident she’d be able to chop it all away and he’d be fine,” said Helen. “She got it all away but for some reason, which we didn’t know at the time, he grows a lot of scar tissue. Six weeks later, I noticed he wasn’t dropping his willy again and was straining to wee; it turned out he’d grown so much scar tissue, he couldn’t drop it.”

    Further investigation found that in those six weeks, a large number of tumours had reappeared.

    “Louisa said the only option would be to take all the tissue away; with no willy, there would be nothing for the tumours to grown on,” Helen said. “So that’s what she did. But when he was under the anaesthetic, he had some reaction and he died for 45 minutes; his heart stopped three or four times, for that long in total.”

    Paddy went home, and Helen was told to get him moving straight away, to try to reduce the swelling to his sheath. But before long, she realised there was another problem.

    “I was walking him in hand and he banged into me; it was like he was genuinely surprised I was there,” she said. “I held a treat out on that side and he couldn’t see it; the vet said he had no sight in that eye at all, because of the lack of oxygen when his heart stopped.

    “It was touch and go for 24 hours but my little man held in there and fought back. Bless his heart, whatever happened, he just carried on.”

    Paddy adjusted to having sight in only one eye, but was suffering at the other end as once again, scar tissue had grown around his urethra and he was struggling to urinate.

    “The vet said we couldn’t give him another general anaesthetic, and the only chance was to operate so he would wee at the back like a mare, or call it a day. I said we’d come that far and he’d have been dead if we didn’t, so let’s go for it.”

    Paddy underwent the procedure under sedation, after which a catheter was sewn in for him to urinate through. To try to prevent the scar tissue build-up, Helen acquired a laser machine, and used it on the operation site, which seemed to work.

    “Paddy had to spend time living in the field, while Helen did her best to treat the sores caused by urine dripping from the catheter.

    “We battled through it,” she said. “It’s been a really tough time but he’s such a trooper and I couldn’t give up on him. He learned very quickly to tip his pelvis to wee, and now the catheter’s out, he’s learning to hold it again instead of weeing every five minutes. He’s been through an awful lot but he’s such a lovely character, he deserved to come out the other side.”

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    Paddy is now jumping again and hacking, and Helen hopes to start competing again soon.

    He has also been “adopted” by pupils of the school Helen works at, having helped entertain them with visits during lockdown, and now takes part in various school functions.

    “He has such a lovely life,” she said. “But if I hadn’t washed his willy that time, he’d be dead now.

    “Always check and clean sheaths regularly; that’s what saved my boy.”

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