Marvin is a sweet, in-your-pocket, goofy yearling that we have all fallen in love with this past week. He has been through hell and back, defeated all the odds against him, and was gifted a miracle, and his story is one that is important to share. Marvin came to us because he started acting weird that morning – he was shaking, sweating, and looked almost colicky. He showed up dog sitting on the trailer, and was extremely sensitive to sounds and touch. The initial suspicion was West Nile Virus.
Marvin walked off the trailer, but within 6 hours was not able to use his hind end at all. By the next morning, he was not able to sit up on his belly or use his front legs at all. We were doing everything we could for him, but as with most viruses, there is no specific treatment. Everything we were giving him was to decrease inflammation and support his immune system, but the thing Marvin really needed was a miracle. I have always been proud of the nursing care our patients receive at CKEH, but this week our staff was out of this world amazing. They stayed with Marvin around the clock, hand feeding him when he couldn’t pick his head up, adjusting his sling so he could be comfortable, getting more mats so he had a good pillow, and cheering him on every step of the way.
West Nile Virus affects the brain and spinal cord, and about 60% of the time horses recover just fine, without getting to this level of severity. My general statement to owners about West Nile is “as long as they stay standing, they’ve got a decent fighting chance”. None of us have ever seen a completely recumbent horse recover. All of the odds were against Marvin. But nobody wanted to give up on Marvin. Maybe most importantly, Marvin didn’t want to give up on Marvin. He never stopped eating, he was the calmest sling patient I’ve ever had, and he kept trying. The cheerleading and the sling lifting and the hand feeding continued until Marvin’s miracle came and he was finally able to sit up on his own, and then stand on his own, and then get up on his own, and then walk on his own….and 4 days later Marvin marched outside to get some well deserved sunshine and grass.
Marvin’s story has a happy ending. But he is the one in a million. Marvin can teach us all about perseverance, and dedication, and believing in miracles. But more importantly, Marvin can remind us how important vaccination is. Marvin was not vaccinated for West Nile, for no reason other than life happens and sometimes things get mistakenly overlooked (I’ve been there!). The vaccine for this horrible disease is very effective. 99% of the West Nile horses I have seen have been unvaccinated, or inappropriately vaccinated. 100% of the West Nile horses I have euthanized have been unvaccinated. It is heartbreaking to look a horse in the eye during a euthanasia knowing it was completely preventable.
The current recommendation for vaccination for West Nile in NE Indiana is a 2 dose initial series, followed by boosters every 6 months. The vaccine is safe and effective. Please consult your regular veterinarian regarding the recommendations in your area. Marvin wasn’t vaccinated. He has dedicated and loving owners, an outstanding nursing staff, and state of the art medical care, but a miracle is ultimately what saved him. Don’t gamble on a miracle. Get (and keep) your horses vaccinated.