MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The thoroughbred Barbaro had the cast removed from his right hind leg yesterday and that's a big deal. Barbaro broke his leg during the Preakness in May and has been in a cast for more than five months. At several points, it's been unclear whether the horse would survive.

Dr. Dean Richardson is chief of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center and has been treating Barbaro there all this time. It's good to talk to you again.

Dr. DEAN RICHARDSON (University of Pennsylvania): Thank you. It's good to talk to you.

BLOCK: Is this a big milestone then taking the cast off yesterday?

Dr. RICHARDSON: I'd say that this is one of the things we've been looking forward to for quite a while, that's for sure. Obviously, what it is means is that the fractured limb, the one that he broke in the Preakness, has healed to the point where we feel that it's safe to simply have him in a bandage and have him walk on it and bear full weight.

BLOCK: The complication here, one of them anyway, is not just the right hind leg that was broken, but the left hind foot, which has developed laminitis. Why don't you tell us what that involves.

Dr. RICHARDSON: Laminitis is basically when the hoof wall, the horny part of the hoof becomes essentially detached from the underlying bone, and it's exquisitely painful to horses. Now fortunately we were able to manage his pain really well back then and also he's been quite comfortable since, but he still has a long way to go before he'll have a normal foot.

BLOCK: And that hoof should be regrowing then?

Dr. RICHARDSON: It is in the process of regrowing. Just like, again, people who have had really badly damaged fingernails can relate to how abnormally sometimes the nail grows back in. That's sort of the situation that we're in right now that he's got very irregular growth. He's very happy on it. He can walk around on his foot with a bandage on, but it still needs a lot more healing.

BLOCK: You were about to go in and change the bandage on the leg that was broken, on Barbaro's right hind leg. How does he look to you when you and see him?

Dr. RICHARDSON: Oh, he looks great. I mean he's had a tremendous last several weeks. He's putting on weight. His coat is shiny. He looks wonderful really at the moment. If you saw him, he would really look like a pretty happy healthy horse right now.

BLOCK: I know that after he was injured in May you were getting deluged with apples and carrots and all sorts of things for Barbaro. Is he still such a cult hero?

Dr. RICHARDSON: Well, yeah. The amazing thing is that that has never diminished. The attention paid by the public at large, the care packages for him and so forth just basically have never really let up.

BLOCK: What are some of the other things you've gotten besides fruits and vegetables?

Dr. RICHARDSON: Oh, donuts and coffee sent for the staff, pizza. Probably the most interesting thing that's happened in my mind was we had a lovely interpretive dance done for him here.

BLOCK: Well, you thought it was interesting. Did Barbaro think the interpretive dance was interesting?

Dr. RICHARDSON: Well, he didn't get to see it, unfortunately because couldn't do it in the intensive care unit.

BLOCK: Is this true that he had an invitation to a wedding?

Dr. RICHARDSON: He probably got at least one. He gets lots and lots of things sent to him directly and part of my responsibility, I suppose, is to read them to him.

BLOCK: But -

Dr. RICHARDSON: But I don't always.

BLOCK: I would think you'd be pretty surprised to find yourself where you are now. If you were thinking back in May about what might be happening in November.

Dr. RICHARDSON: Oh, I think I never would've thought this never was going to happen where it would be this big a deal. I mean obviously, when the horse broke down, I mean, I was prepared for media attention. But I don't think anyone in their right mind would've predicted that the story would have the legs that it's had. It just goes on and on. And it's not just because the horse lives on and on. It's just there's something about this story that seems to appeal to people.

BLOCK: Well, Dr. Richardson, thanks for talking to us.

Dr. RICHARDSON: Okay. It's my pleasure.

BLOCK: Dean Richardson is chief of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, where they've been treating the former racehorse Barbaro.

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