Staff Q&A with Pat Hall & Carol Sheets

Staff Q&A/Two employees at the New Bolton Center talk about the drawings, get-well cards and dozens of flowers sent to one very famous patient.

“Barbaro did receive a wedding invitation a couple weeks ago.”

When Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke bones above and below his ankle at the Preakness on May 20, both Pat Hall and Carol Sheets knew he would be rushed to Penn’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa.

“I just knew Barbaro was coming here because we’re the best. In my mind, there were no ifs, ands or buts,” says Sheets.

The subsequent surgeries and ensuing media circus that descended on the pastoral Chester County facility have been well documented. Hall and Sheets saw it unfold from the inside. For the first few days after Barbaro’s arrival, they fielded calls from the national media. Then they set about opening the bins of mail that had arrived for Barbaro and Dean Richardson, the horse’s surgeon. Four months after Barbaro’s arrival, the cards and gift baskets keep coming. “We still get things from all over the country, sometimes all over the world—fruit baskets, treat baskets, goodie baskets for the staff,” says Sheets. “Barbaro loves sweets so people send him carrots and mints every day.”

Not to mention the calls from people who want to pass along cure-alls to Richardson, the $3,000 to $5,000 worth of gifts donated to the Barbaro Fund in honor of the surgeon’s birthday and yes, even a wedding invitation from a couple to the famous horse.

Q. When did you start getting inundated with letters and cards?
CSCS: It was overnight, almost.
PH: There was just so much of it—three mail bins full. I started opening it here one day and thought, I can’t do this—I just had so much other stuff to do. So, I started taking it home. I would spend hours at night reading some of it. You justQ. What was the correspondence like? Did you get a lot of notes from kids?
 

Q. What was the correspondence like? Did you get a lot of notes from kids?
CSCS:
Their pictures are so heartwarming. They put their all into it. We have a message board outside my office and [New Bolton Director Corinne Sweeney] from time to time posts some of the pictures that children send in.
PH: I have this little old lady [who calls me]. … every couple of weeks and I’ll send her pictures. When I first talked to her, I said, you can just get on the internet. ‘Dear,’ she said, ‘I don’t have access to that.’ Well, next time I talked to her, she told me she had taken herself to the library and had gotten the librarians to help her get on and now she does that on a regular basis.
CSCS: I have people like that, too. I have one woman who calls me all the way from California every week to ask me how Barbaro is doing.
PH: I don’t know how many mass cards we’ve gotten. People send medals, holy water, statues. There’s a statue of St. Francis of Assisi over there.
CSCS: Rosary beads, too.
PH: Barbaro did receive a wedding invitation a couple weeks ago. When I first opened it, his name was on the outside envelope and I thought, no this can’t be. The wedding is in September and the girl had written a note saying she really hoped he could come but she would understand if he can’t. We sent the reply card back saying he wouldn’t be unable to attend because he didn’t have a thing to wear and he wouldn’t be able to dance. And Dr. Richardson happened to be over here and he saw it, so he signed a thank-you card and sent it to her. In his note, Barbaro wished them well in their marriage, but that he didn’t plan to remain monogamous.

Q. What did you do with these cards and pictures?
CSCS: There were a lot on his stall. We have a bulletin board outside my office and we put pictures up there and change them from time to time.
PH: They’re gone now because of the bad weather, but there were numerous posters on the gates coming in.
CSCS: We also had people sending flowers. We planted rose bushes in Barbaro’s honor.
PH: When it first happened, there were 50 to 60 dozen roses. There were arrangements that had to have six dozen roses in them by themselves.

Q. Do you write back to people?
PH: In the beginning, we thought we’d try to respond to everybody. It just became so overwhelming, so the only thing we respond to now are monetary gifts.
CSCS: Dr. Sweeney has responded to certain people also. This one woman sends chocolates from New York all the time. We’ve had one gentleman, several times, send Tastykakes to the staff.
PH: Some people send return envelopes with their card, asking to send them pictures. I send them a press release that came out when Barbaro first came here. … [People send] two to three page letters. They start out by saying, ‘I don’t know why I’m writing to a horse.’

Q. Why do you think this story touched people so much?
CSCS: People just love Barbaro and the more the word got out, people just clung to this. They prayed and I think prayer has something to do with it because he is such a fighter. PH: I think people have gravitated to it because it has become a success story, so far, let’s just say. With all the bad things that happen in the world, I think they were just looking for something that is
positive.
PH: I think people have gravitated to it because it has become a success story, so far, let’s just say. With all the bad things that happen in the world, I think they were just looking for something that is positive.

Originally published on September 21, 2006