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The Bizarre Injury and Amazing Recovery of Jamberry the Horse

Courtesy of Iowa State University Large Animal Hospital
Three-dimensional images of the CT scan of Jamberry's head.

This program originally aired on 12-22-17

If you’ve ever taken a psychology class, you’ve probably heard the story of Phineas Gage. He was a railroad worker who survived a terrible accident in which an iron rod was driven through his head. He’s remembered in the psychology books because that accident taught us a lot about how the brain works.

In this Talk of Iowa segment, Charity Nebbe hosts a conversation about an Iowa horse named Jamberry who had a very similar accident to Gage.

Credit Courtesy of Iowa State University Large Animal Hospital
Images of Jamberry during the healing process at ISU. Her wounds were cleaned multiple times a day to prevent infection.

After getting the horses settled in for the night, Jamberry’s owners found her the next morning with an eight-foot-tall metal pole through her head.

“In the Phineas Gage case, there was damage to his brain, but she had just narrowly missed the brain and the pole had gone through the sinuses,” says Dr. Stephanie Caston, an equine surgeon at Iowa State University who works on the team that saved Jamberry.

“The best that we can figure is that she was grazing through the fence […] and pushed through, and one of the poles had a loose weld, and she was able to push her head through, and that loose end got stuck behind her jaw when she tried to pull back. In the process of trying to free herself, she not only drove the rod through her head but it became disconnected at the other end as well.”

Caston says that despite their graceful image, horses are clumsy and act in ways that lead to self-imposed traumatic injuries.

“They are prey animals and they do have a strong flight or fight response,” she says. “If they’re scared, their reaction is to try and get away, to try and run, to try and get out of whatever predicament they’re in.”

At the time of the accident, Jamberry was pregnant. Caston says the prognosis is good for Jamberry and the foal. She’s expected to carry the foal to term, though she will experience chronic nasal discharge and have a harder time eating. Jamberry is expected to deliver the filly in spring.

Click here for more information and photos of Jamberry’s treatment at Iowa State University.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa