Meet Suki the burn survivor

Suki in 2003

Who is Suki?

Suki is a 10 year old horse

Where did the name Suki come from?

When I bought Suki she was 3 years old and not yet started under saddle.  I bought her frm a video viewing and by the advice of my veterinarian.  She was in British Columbia, and because she was not yet being ridden I decided to go for it.  She did not yet have a barn name.  At the time I was reading an Abigail Adams biography.  She had a daughter named Susannah, whose nickname was Suki.  I thought it was a great name.

What happened to Suki?

Suki survived a barn fire, she had burns on 70% of her body and spent six weeks in ICU care.

Suki 2 weeks after the fire.

What happened that fateful night?

I received a call around midnight from my friend and fellow boarder, Bobbi. She told me that the barn was on fire and they did not know where Suki and Whisby (Bobbi’s big chestnut mare) were. She was on her way to the scene to search for the horses. My husband was away on business and my 3 year old son was asleep in the next room, so I was unable to leave. For the next several hours I waited for word about Suki. I tried repeatedly to reach my husband, who is notorious for not answering his phone! I texted my trainer Heather Mason, who remained in contact with me throughout the night.

At around 3 AM Bobbi called and said that the girls had been found in a field a few miles from Pink Star (the barn we had boarded at), and Suki had been badly burned. A veterinarian was evaluating. her. I kept asking if she needed to be put down. Everyone kept saying “I don’t know”. Because I was still unable to leave, Bobbi and her husband volunteered to drive Suki to New Bolton Center. They dropped off Whisby (who only had minor injuries) at another barn and took Suki to the hospital. I was really glad about this, because Suki knows Bobbi and it would be a comfort to her.

Around 5 AM I spoke to the veterinarians and again asked if she needed to be put down. They said she was stable, and to see how she progressed.

I continued to pace until 7 AM when I could take my son to preschool and drive the hour plus to New Bolton. One thing that stands out in my mind was when I walked into reception and explained why I was there. Then I burst into tears. The receptionist came out from behind the counter and wrapped her arms around me. That’s when you realize that they understand all of the emotions that you are dealing with. I will never forget the first time I saw Suki after the fire. Her eyes were swollen shut and her skin was covered in SSD for the burns. When I called her name she nickered back, then accepted a carrot. I think I was in shock at that point. The odds were against her survival but she is a strong girl. By the next morning she had lifted her head and began to act like the diva she is….we never looked back.

Suki being released

What kind of care/therapy did Suki have to go through after the fire?

While in the hospital, Suki’s pain was managed very carefully. The metabolism of burn patients increases greatly because of the amount of energy needed for healing. So it was important to keep her pain-free so that her appetite remained steady, and that meant keeping her pain-free. Her vitals were monitored around the clock and if anything changed her pain meds were adjusted accordingly. She wore a fentanyl patch and received a number of other meds in addition to IV fluids and plasma.

Suki’s eyes were burned and swollen shut, and her corneas had ulcers from the fire. Ointment had to be applied in her eyes 4 times a day. The result of that amazing care was that her eyes fully healed and her vision is normal. Because over 70% of Suki’s body was burned, the decision was made to let the dead skin fall away on its own. This way it would reduce the chance of infection. When the charred skin fell away, there was new skin underneath.

Eventually the IV fluids were discontinued and the pain meds were reduced. Suki was given gabapentin because of the neuropathic pain associated with burns healing. Each day the burns were carefully cleaned and SSD was liberally applied, giving Suki a ghost like appearance.
When Suki was released to the rehab farm much of this treatment continued. She remained on twice daily oral meds, which needed to be disguised in applesauce, grain and gummy bears. Her skin needed to be cleaned and the last bit of dead skin on her back continued to fall off. Turnout could only be done when there was no sun, so Kelly would put her out before sunrise and after sunset for an hour or two.

When we left the rehab farm for regular boarding daily skin care remains to this day an essential part of grooming. We, of course, experienced the difficulty with the last burned area healing, which led to the skin graft, also requiring after care. All is healed now, but that area remains bandaged for extra padding. Daily skin care continues.

Looking much better these days

What do you think got Suki through the fire and the long recovery?

Suki’s will to survive was evident from the beginning. Her veterinarians were impressed by her spirit and courage. Suki never showed any signs of giving in. She fought to recover. Everyone is convinced that the diva personality helped her get through it. They also said that my regular visits also made a huge difference in her recovery. Suki would start to call to me as soon as she could hear my voice in the prep room by ICU. She would immediately demand that I come right to her stall. The care that she received at New Bolton was phenomenal. Her needs were met 24 hours a day.

How did you commemorate the 3rd anniversary?

We did a celebration of life, which was a champagne toast in Suki’s honor. My friend Lori, whose son was badly burned (on the same date, but 2 years prior) had told me that’s what they do for him. I think that it is the perfect way to acknowledge the day without focusing on the tragedy.

Still a survivor 3 years later

When did you first get involved with horses?

I started riding when I was 15. I had begged for riding lessons for years, but had been in ballet since age 5, and was dancing every day and performing with a ballet company. My mother was against the idea. Finally, my father came home one day and said that he had signed me up for lessons. I started with hunter/jumpers because that was available, but my first instructor was amazing, although I did not realize it at the time. She put me on a lunge line with no reins or stirrups and said that I could have them once I developed a seat. I think that’s why sitting trot is “my thing”!

One serene morning

Check out Suki’s Blog:

Other articles about Suki:

Author’s Notes:
The author would like to thank Suki & her wonderful guardian for sharing her story. The pictures featured in this article were used with permission.