New building keeps horses in form

Cramped quarters and outdated equipment made a quick exit with the summer debut of the New Bolton Center’s Scott Equine Sports Medicine Building—the University’s new hub for equine sports medicine research, teaching and service.

With the facility’s opening, Penn’s veterinary cardiology practice finally got a space befitting its roster of patients, which includes horses who have gone on to win medals in international competitions like the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.

Virginia Reef, director of large animal cardiology and ultrasonography, said the facility, which has rooms that are more spacious, allows clinicians to conduct evaluations with ease.

Previously, animals undergoing ultrasounds were forced into tight spaces, sometimes with disastrous consequences. “50 percent didn’t even want to enter the room,” said Reef. “They were very stressed and felt trapped.” Slippery flooring didn’t help matters. “They would fly backwards and flip and get even more scared.”

In order to calm patients, doctors relied on sedatives, which tend to depress cardiac functions and in turn hamper a more accurate reading of the heart, said Reef.

A more animal-friendly environment isn’t the only feature of the new facility. New Bolton physicians also get a helping hand from top-of-the-line equipment. Reef said different types of evaluations can now be performed by coupling ultrasound imaging techniques with high-speed treadmill workouts.

Better equipment doesn’t just mean more thorough evaluations but also better future vets. The center’s students benefit because the new equipment produces images with higher resolutions. Reef said those looking at ultrasound images for the first time are often puzzled by what they see. “When you first look at it, it looks like a bunch of white dots on a black background.”

And instead of seeing just part of the image, students can now view the whole thing.

“[It allows] extended fields of view,” said Reef, who is also Mark Whittier and Lila Griswold Allam Professor of Equine Medicine. “You can see the whole side of the lung instead of a little window.”

The new building also increases the number of patients doctors can see at any one time. Instead of just two examinations, doctors can now evaluate five large animals simultaneously. With a case load of more than 2000 patients a year, Reef said having more evaluation rooms has been a blessing. Though the center is tucked away in the farmlands of exurban Kennett Square, a steady flow of patients arrive from the Northeastern seaboard, some even coming from as far away as Europe and Florida.

Reef said she has no complaints with the new facility. “I’ve been to most of the vet schools in North America and in Europe, it’s by far the nicest.”

Originally published on November 14, 2002