Sunday, August 22, 2010


Lessons from Laddee

Laddee, the Little Belgian Mare fulfilled her destiny during the pre-dawn hours of Friday, August 20th. Laddee allowed her spirit to move on and left her body to die. And she did this in her own way.

Without any of those who loved her surrounding her, in the quiet of the very early morning, Laddee crossed when no one was there to sing to her. No one was there to plead with her to stay. A technician was with her to insure her airway was open but those who had supported her and sustained her in these past months were not there with her. Laddee crossed when no one was there to try to save her. Laddee crossed in her own way.

One of Laddee's strongest and heartiest supporters was her surgeon, Dr. Anne Nicholson. Dr. Anne became her friend as well as her medical healer. I witnessed Laddee recognize the sound of Anne's voice and walk to her, place her head in Anne's chest, and take comfort in just the presence of this talented woman.

I have come to respect and admire Dr. Anne. And I am eternally grateful for her treatment, her love, and her cares of Laddee. But also for her compassion and tolerance of me. My eternal questions and challenges. My tears that just would not stop at the slightest mention of Laddee and her tumors. And my fears of not being able to care for Laddee as she needed.

As the heat of the summer created intolerable conditions here at THE FARM, Laddee became even closer to Dr. Anne. And in her kindness, Dr. Anne has written her thoughts of Laddee to share with all of you. Read for yourself the talent, the compassion, the dedication, and the gentleness of this Human Being.

Thank you, Dr. Anne, for being there for Laddee. The destiny of Laddee would not have been complete without you. Blessings to you, my friend. And gratitude for the unending, compassionate care of M'Laddee.

Princess Laddee

Things Laddee taught me:
• Hope
• Patience
• Compassion – especially for people
• The power that one individual can have
• Determination
• Selflessness

My journey with Laddee:

July 2009: When I first met Laddee we were being filmed by a camera crew while we examined her. She was large and thin and angry and obstinate and smelled terrible. We had to sedate her for her to be calm enough for us to examine her and her eye at all. She threw her feet and head in distaste for me and what I was doing. We discovered that she had, not a “simple tumor” by her eye, but a bad tumor (epitheliod angiosarcoma), that had metastasized to other places on her head. She also had evidence of another tumor type (squamous cell carcinoma) on the third eyelid of her “good” eye.

With much thought and deliberation, we took her to surgery and removed the bad eye, the third eyelid of the good eye, and a lymph node. Now it was time for anesthesia recovery. Drafts can be hard enough to manage for recovery from anesthesia – but now we have a blind, angry, untrusting Belgian. Yikes! Well, that was the first time Laddee showed me her fight. She recovered without problems and without injury to herself or anyone else.

The aftercare was filled with sedation and bandage changes and a bit of extra wound care on our part – a lot more patience and work on Sandy’s part.

November 2009: Laddee was present and a star at the Refuge Farms Gala. I had to leave the Gala to do emergency surgery while her story was told and the audience teared up in the arena of the Equine Center. But it was my time to shine with her a few days later. The plan was to debulk the tumor below her right ear and implant Cisplatin beads in a hope to reduce the tumor burden.

Surgery was long, but went fairly well. This time, the surgery was performed standing. At the end of surgery, Laddee began to make a lot of respiratory noise. We gave her some time, but she continued to have increased effort breathing. Endoscopy showed laryngospasm – with only a small opening to her airway. Evaluation of her guttural pouches gave us a possible reason why – more enlarged lymph nodes from metastasis. A temporary tracheotomy was performed to allow Laddee to breathe.

At this point, Laddee’s personality towards me was one of tolerance. She was in the fight to live, but luckily for me, she had stopped fighting me. Now, I definitely won’t say that she liked me, but she tolerated me. And her behavior in the hospital was significantly improved from her first visit.

She had clearly touched a place in Sandy’s heart by this point. They were extremely dedicated to each other. And watching that bond was enough to keep me in the fight too. Sandy patiently learned and practiced how to change the tracheotomy tube. Before Laddee was discharged from the hospital, I read Sandy’s vows to Laddee.

December 2009: I was off studying, but Laddee returned to the hospital and was found to have enough airflow through her nostrils to have her tracheotomy tube removed. What a relief for us all.

May 2010: Laddee began having blood-tinged discharge from her nose. Endoscopy revealed that opening to her airway was OK, but there was worsening of the tumors in her guttural pouches. Unfortunately, there was no treatment that would improve that area. But, Laddee was happy and in good health otherwise. Her weight and coat were perfect!

At the end of the month, I was fortunate enough to travel to Refuge Farms with my mom. We both had a wonderful visit and were delighted in seeing Laddee and Handsome together in love.

June 2010: Medically what happened was that a permanent tracheostomy was performed on an elective basis to prevent worsening of Laddee’s difficulty breathing. The surgery itself went well. But Laddee being Laddee, things didn’t go as planned afterwards. The sutures of the tracheostomy didn’t hold so the surgery was revised. The sutures didn’t hold that time either. Creativity led us to try many different things to keep the trachea open; human rib-spreaders ordered on eBay became the most useful tool.

From June 18th until August 20th Laddee spent more time at the U of M Equine Center with us than at Refuge Farms. That is when I really got to know Laddee for who she was.

This is where it becomes so hard to put things into words. So, while this won’t be eloquent in any way here as some snippets of what comes to mind.

She knew and treated people as individuals.
• She knew that Sonja would spoil her, call her “Princess” and feed her
treats. She would paw at the door when she heard Sonja to demand that
• She knew that Pam would scratch her and would let Laddee use her as a
scratching post to rub her huge head on. This is something she reserved for
• She was sweet to Rosalie and let her brush her and bathe her. She just ate up that attention.
• She taught Robert to love horses. Here, this big, blind Belgian knew exactly how to be with a vet student who wasn’t so comfortable around horses. He developed confidence with her friendship.
• She knew me. Her ears would perk up and she’d turn when she heard my voice. She was so patient with me and would eventually let me do almost anything with her in her stall – as long as it was just the two of us. I could change her retractors, clean and examine her trachea, and make any adjustments without much fuss. She wasn’t usually so patient with others. But she had me trained as well – I would get her the hay fines she loved and the butt scratches she wanted on her command.
• How do I even put into words how she was with Sandy? It was the purest form of love I’ve ever seen.

Laddee helped me recognize the power of love and caring for humans. I would like to think that loving and caring for horses has always come easy for me. I’m not always good at recognizing the same needs of people. Laddee brought such a varied group of people together and helped me to get to know them as individuals, like she did.

I have been so fortunate to develop my friendship with Sandy over this journey, and to let her teach me too. Hugs from friends feel good, especially when they are from the heart. The pureness and honesty of Sandy and all she does for horses and people shows in the people who she attracts. The compassion and openness Sandy has for others is amazing. This makes other amazing people such as Pam, Rosalie, and Tracy flock towards her. That loving, giving spirit is truly moving, eye-opening and motivating for me.

So thank you Laddee, for being yourself and trusting in others who had no agenda other than to bring you health and happiness. You brought joy and hope to so many people. Thank you Laddee for showing me how to have more compassion for people as individuals, and inspiring me to do the same. And thank you Laddee for being the catalyst of my friendship with Sandy.

Laddee, I love you and will miss you dearly. The only comfort your crossing has provided is the hope that I have you as an angel watching over me.

Anne Nicholson
August 22, 2010

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