Tornado in Massachusetts: One Horse’s Twister of Fate Brings Him to Vet School Hospital for Surgery

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This video is about only one of the many horses who survived the Massachusetts tornado last week; his stablemate Dakota was killed and two other horses have more superficial wounds. Listen to the part about the vet and the owner’s sister trying to get through to the farm to help the horses. This video was made Tuesday and aired on Wednesday; Cajun has had more surgery since this video was made.

Tornadoes are not my strongest subject so this post wasn’t easy to write. Tornadoes happen somewhere else. They happen in places like Kansas. They happen to other people. They are something that east coast people make jokes about, based on being brought up on a steady diet of Wizard of Oz cliches. Tornadoes are something we see on the news, and we feel badly for the people but we know it can’t happen here.

Ask me about hurricanes. Ask me about tidal surges. Ask me about blizzards and floods and summer squalls so electric they turn the ocean into liquid lightning. Those are the things we know here in New England. We measure our weather pain in gusts’ miles per hour or degrees below zero or how many times the plow had to come up the driveway. Don’t ask any of us what an F3 tornado means.

We don’t have tornadoes here, but we did last week.

But now we know something about tornadoes. They may not have happened right here in my town, but last week to everyone else in the horse world who happened to be unlucky enough to be in a half-mile wide, 40-mile long swath of land in west-central Massachusetts. From the Eastern States horse show grounds in West Springfield to the hallowed flea market town of Brimfield, the giant twister blasted through solid forest and sent trees flying.

Most people were at work. Their horses were turned out or in their stalls, wherever they’d been left that morning. When people tried to get home to find out how their animals were, or when vets tried to get to injured animals, they found the roads impassable.

The old New England adage, “You can’t get there from here,” was never more true.

For a place that doesn’t have tornadoes, we sure had a heck of a one last week.

More about Cajun: The handsome paint’s injury sounds simple enough. During or after the tornado, Cajun was impaled by a finger-sized piece of wood that penetrated his right hind coffin joint—the intersection of the lowest bones in the horse’s leg—and tendon sheath.  Surgery was needed to remove it, and the wood was splintered, so there were tiny slivers to be removed.

He’s had surgery twice so far now, under the direction of Carl A. Kirker-Head, Vet MB, DACVS, DECVS, associate professor of Clinical Sciences at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Any time the coffin joint and tendon sheath are involved, there is a serious risk of infection—and given the adverse conditions Cajun was in following the tornado, we are proceeding very cautiously,” said Dr. Kirker-Head in a prepared statement provided by Tufts. “He is receiving the best care available, and we are hopeful for his continued improvement.

Cajun’s ongoing medical care is being supervised by Clinical Assistant Professor Thomas Jenei, DVM, DACVS, as well as residents, interns, veterinary technicians, and fourth-year veterinary students at the Cummings School.

His care has been estimated to cost at least $15,000 just in the first week. His owners have lost everything they owned…except him and two other surviving horses.

Note: Donations for Cajun’s care, which are not tax-deductible, may be made to JoAnn Kass and Steven Bush, in care of Karen Walker, 351 Bernard Whitney Road, New Braintree, MA 01531, or may be made directly by calling the Tufts Vet School Large Animal Hospital’s front desk at (508) 839-7926. A Facebook page for Cajun has been set up; search for “Help Save Cajun” on Facebook.

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