Special delivery: Colt’s birth shown on webcam

Special delivery: My Special Girl and her colt. Photo: New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania
Proud mum: My Special Girl and her colt. Photo: New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania

To My Special Girl, a bouncing 104-pound baby colt – and the entire event was webcast to the world.

The birth of the as-yet unnamed colt was webcast in a special initiative by the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.

The live feed from My Special Girl’s stall in New Bolton Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was available at www.vet.upenn.edu/foalcam from February 26.

Since then, more than 133,000 people in 112 countries have tuned in to monitor the mare and await the birth.

My Special Girl and her newborn will be on camera for two more days, so viewers are encouraged to keep watching.

My Special Girl’s water broke at 9pm and the foal was delivered at 9.22pm on March 29.

It was a tight fit, but the presentation, position, and posture were all normal. Due to the tight fit, New Bolton Center clinicians decided to assist with the delivery.

The birth canal was lubricated and the colt was delivered with moderate traction. The total duration of Stage 2 labor – the time between the water breaking and the actual birth – was 22 minutes.

“It was good that we were here,” said Dr Regina Turner, associate professor of large animal reproduction.

“It was a strain for the mare because it was a tight fit and the colt’s shoulders were hung up briefly in the birth canal.

“We were able to assist the delivery with some lubrication and traction. We are all so happy that the mare and foal are bonding so well. It looks like My Special Girl is going to be a great mom.”

The chief of the neonatal intensive care service and director of perinatal/neonatal programs at the centre, Dr Jonathan Palmer, said: “The foal at birth was not as responsive as normal and had a lower heart rate than normal, and had other indications that he was slow to start, so we did give him a dose of epinephrine to stimulate his heart rate and to support his circulation at birth.

“We attached an ECG to monitor his heart rate and rhythm because of his slow start.

“Within minutes he responded. We routinely in high-risk pregnancies take a blood sample from the umbilical cord at birth.

“We found mild abnormalities that showed the foal had some stress in utero and this may have led to a slow start. He was somewhat slow standing on his own and somewhat slow nursing on his own, but we fully expect that he will come around. But because of his slow start we will be monitoring him very carefully.

“We will be watching his behavior closely and we will be taking more blood samples to make sure he continues to make a smooth transition.

“My Special Girl is a wonderful mother but she is still unsure of how to fully fulfill that role.

“She stood as still as a statue. A more experienced mare tries to position herself so the foal has an easier time finding the udder to nurse. She is being very attentive and nurturing with her colt,” Palmer added.

Dr Corinne Sweeney, associate dean and executive hospital director for the New Bolton Center, said: “We are thrilled to have shared the birth of this special foal through the Foal Cam, which provided a behind-the-scenes look at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center and served as a unique educational opportunity.

“Our exceptional veterinarians and staff members from several hospital services took part in this pregnancy, from reproduction to imaging to neonatal intensive care. We are very proud of the result.”

The colt will spend his first six months at the Hofmann Center at the New Bolton Center, until he is weaned. But he will remain in the New Bolton Center family, because he will be adopted by Dr Rose Nolen-Walston, the center’s assistant professor of medicine, who lives on a nearby farm.

Lisa Fergusson of Cochranville, once on Canada’s Olympic Eventing team, will be the foal’s trainer when he is ready to begin his athletic career.

This foal is the first successful pregnancy by Penn Vet using the advanced reproductive technique intracytoplasmic sperm injection, known as ICSI, which involves injecting a single sperm into a mature egg.

This ICSI embryo was transferred to My Special Girl in early April. She was due to foal on March 14, which is the average of 340 days of gestation.

Penn Medicine’s Dr Matthew VerMilyea, director of the invitro fertilization and andrology laboratories at Penn Medicine, is performing ICSI for the Hofmann Center.

ICSI is a common procedure in human medicine that revolutionized the treatment of male infertility. VerMilyea is using a microscope with laser technology, used for humans but rarely used in the ICSI procedure in horses.

ICSI has great potential for use of frozen sperm from deceased stallions to carry on a legacy. In addition, the procedure can be used for mares who cannot get pregnant or carry their offspring themselves in the conventional manner, as all the donor mare needs to do is produce an egg.

Through continued collaboration with Penn Medicine, Penn Vet is positioning itself to provide this service to clients in the future so that everything – from the oocyte aspiration, to the sperm injection, to the embryo culture, and embryo transfer – are all performed at Penn.

My Special Girl, an 11-year-old Thoroughbred, was donated to New Bolton Center’s herd of horses used for teaching veterinary students.

The egg for the foal came from a Thoroughbred-Cleveland Bay cross mare. The sperm was from frozen semen from a long-deceased Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse cross stallion that was part of the Hofmann Center’s teaching program.

More information: www.vet.upenn.edu/foalcam.
Reporting: Ashley Berke

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