Paul Wan revisits the initial treatment needed to stabilize the shocked and swollen show horse.

High profile horse highlights what vet's patients/clients already knew

Kobe was given IV fluids to ease the effects of shock the first few days in he was in Dr. Paul Wan’s equine hospital.

By Tina Richards

Kobe, a six-year-old gelding, was far from his Washington state home when the accident happened.

The grand prix show horse, along with six others, was en route to Thermal, California, when the trailer they were riding in was sideswiped by a semitruck on the San Bernardino Freeway.

Kobe suffered the most serious injuries, which is how he met Dr. Paul Wan, an equine vet who lives in Orange Park Acres and operates a hospital in Norco.  Because of Kobe’s status in the world of dressage and news coverage of the accident, Wan was suddenly the center of attention.

“I saw him just a few hours after the accident,” Wan recalls.  He had multiple facial fractures, was in shock, and his lungs were filling with fluid.  A CT scan indicated that the orbital bone behind his right eye was broken; the eye was recessed and swollen; he was bleeding from the nose. 

Close call
Wan’s first priority was to treat Kobe for shock and reduce the fluid in his lungs.  Fortunately, the orbital bone collapsed backwards into the sinus cavity, and did not push upwards into the brain. “Had that happened,” Wan says, “we would have lost him.”

Wan determined that, based on what he saw in the X-rays, no surgery was necessary to repair the facial fractures. That was a good thing, because anesthesia and shock is not a good combination.  “He was in severe shock,” the veterinarian explains, “and anesthesia might have been too much for him to handle.  Again, we could have lost him.”

With surgery off the table, Wan focused on reducing the facial swelling and continuing to treat for shock.  Kobe’s broken orbital bone was inoperable, its position too hard to reach without causing additional serious damage.

Kobe’s owners instructed Wan to do “everything he could” to care for Kobe. The horse was exhibiting “neurological issues,” and it took four days before he began to act “normal.” It took another 45 days of hospital care before he was moved to a pasture in South County, where he will spend the summer recovering.  Wan will check on him periodically to ensure his progress. 

As good as new
With additional training, Kobe may be able to return to the show arena.  “He won’t be jumping for a while,” Wan says, “and with his eye still recessed, he won’t have 100 percent vision on that side.  He’s going to want to turn his head in that direction to see better. He’s going to have to learn to trust his rider to guide him.” 

At the same time Wan was treating Kobe, as well as his other equine patients, he and his wife Rebecca, who manages the office, were creating a new state-of-the-art hospital in Norco.  The Socal Equine Hospital is open now, but not yet ready for its grand opening.  Aided by hospital staff and OPA neighbors John and Carolyn Aliotta, the couple is still putting the finishing touches on the facility.

The 11,000-sq.-ft. hospital houses 15 climate-controlled stalls to keep patients comfortable, two sterile operating rooms, and one stand-up operating room.  It is surrounded by fenced pasture to give recovering horses a safe place to exercise.  The Wans hope to hold a grand opening in May.

Paul Wan didn’t know he was going to become an equine surgeon until his freshman year at veterinary school in Georgia.  “I thought I was going to work with small animals,” he says, “until a friend of mine said, ‘let’s go up to Lexington for the summer and get some experience with horses.’ ” They were subsequently offered an internship at a thoroughbred farm.  “When we drove in, I saw miles and miles of white fencing, and I said to my friend, ‘I bet we’re going to paint those fences.’ ”  Sure enough, the pair spent the first week wielding paint brushes.  Fence painting, it turned out, was how the farm’s operators tested their mettle.  They wanted to make sure the young vet students weren’t going to leave.

From fence rails to pony tails
With their commitment demonstrated, they graduating to working with mares and foals.  The next year they worked with yearlings.  By the time he graduated, Wan was hooked on horses.

He worked as a resident surgeon at the University of Tennessee before landing a job in Yorba Linda.  He eventually bought a practice in Norco, and he and his family moved into OPA in 1996, where he became the go-to vet for many horse owners in the equestrian community.

Kobe may be the highest profile horse Wan has worked with, but every patient tells a story -- whether thoroughbred, trail horse, donkey or mule.  Rebecca Wan recounts the first day they were in their new facility – unpacking, organizing, putting up wall padding. They had to drop everything to do emergency surgery on a colicky horse.  Fortunately, the operating room was ready.

Rebecca recalls, with borderline disbelief, the horse that had eaten a lead line.  When a horse swallows a foreign object, it becomes calcified from hard water deposits. Essentially turned to stone, the only way to remove these objects is via a surgical procedure.  “We’ve pulled out stones as big as bowling balls,” Paul Wan notes.  But the lead line removed from that horse was just that.  “It was hard as a rock, but shaped just like the lead line,” Rebecca Wan says.  “That’s one of the oddest things we’ve ever seen.”