Skin grafts for Northstar in his battle back from critical burns

Northstar is recovering from his severe burns.
Northstar is recovering from his severe burns.

Badly burned Northstar is now undergoing skin grafts on his long road to recovery, after cruel hooligans doused him with fuel and set him alight two months ago.

The paint horse is being cared for at the Galbreath Equine Center at the Ohio State University, where veterinarian Sam Hurcombe stepped up to give Northstar a shot at life.

Northstar, 6, was doused in an unknown accelerant and set on fire on the weekend of August 25 in Athens Township, Crawford County, Pennsylvania. He was left with first, second, and third-degree burns to about 40 per cent of his body.

For weeks he was unable to bend down to graze.

Given the severity of his injuries, his best chance was a transfer to the Galbreath Equine Center 210 miles away, where he could be treated by specialists. He made the journey on September 5.

Northstar, owned by Jessie and Bob Woodworth for all of his life, has proved to be a model patient.

With no protocol for burns this severe, intensive care, novel cell-based therapies and skin grafting are being used by Hurcombe and his team, with amazing success.

Dr Sam Hurcombe with Northstar.
Dr Sam Hurcombe with Northstar.

Hurcombe, who is assistant professor of equine emergency and critical care at the center, remains hopeful about his patient, whose plight made international headlines.

“Northstar is making good progress in his recovery. His attitude and demeanor remain bright and positive,” Hurcombe said.

“The superficial burns are all but healed with signs of hair regrowth visible. The more extensive and deep wounds have also made significant progress.

“We have infection under control and his healing tissue beds look good.

“We started the skin-grafting process two weeks ago and are optimistic that about 75 per cent of the grafts placed have incorporated into the granulation tissue and will survive,” he said.

“Grafting is a slow process and will take several weeks to begin seeing the full benefit.”

Hurcombe said the medical team also used harvested skin cells from his unaffected skin and grew several hundred thousand in culture, and seeded the wound beds with fibroblasts and keratinocytes. Fibroblasts are a type of cell that synthesizes the extracellular matrix and collagen, the structural framework for animal tissues, and plays a critical role in wound healing. Keratinocytes are cells found in the outermost skin layer, the epidermis.

Dr Hurcombe says staff at Ohio State are looking forward to the day Northstar can go home.
Dr Hurcombe says staff at Ohio State are looking forward to the day Northstar can go home.

“Both the cell-based therapy and skin grafts are hoped to close the large defect left by severe second and third-degree burns,” Hurcombe said.

“We have definitely made headway and are optimistic that Northstar will survive and have a good quality of life when he goes home.”

The treatments may have huge potential to benefit all equine burn patients, he said.

“More skin grafts and wound management are in his future over the next few weeks.”

Hurcombe said he wanted to send a special thank-you to those who have donated to the Northstar Equine Critical Care Fund at the university.

“We love him here at Ohio State, but look forward to the day we can send him home to Jessie and Bob.”

The Galbreath Equine Center admits about 1200 ill or injured horses annually, and treats a similar number on an outpatient basis each year.


If you would like to support equine critical care at Ohio State, please call (614)688-8433 or go to

Pennsylvania State Police are investigating the attack on Northstar. Anyone with information can contact state police at 814-663-2043.



One thought on “Skin grafts for Northstar in his battle back from critical burns

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *