Meet the Vet Who Powered Up Paynter: The Jurga Report Interviews Dr. Laura Javsicas

It’s a glitzy night in South Florida tonight. Limousines roll up under the floodlit palm trees in front of Gulfstream Park and the well-heeled owners, breeders and trainers of America’s finest Thoroughbred racehorses are escorted into the party where everyone knows your name, if you’re in the game.

The woman who truly powered up Paynter is Dr. Laura Javsicas. A specialist in equine internal medicine, she’ll be on the stage at tonight’s Eclipse Awards to be recognized for her role in the “NTRA Moment of the Year”, when champion colt Paynter was in her care for colitis and laminitis. (photo by Bruce Jackson courtesy of Dr Javsicas)

But there’s one woman no one recognizes. She’s young, bright-eyed, looks intelligent. She’s dressed for the event and she’s grinning, sort of sheepishly, because she doesn’t know a soul there.

She doesn’t own, train or breed racehorses; she treats them. Her racetrack is a circuit from the treatment room to a stall to a lab to her desk and back again. She’s a veterinary specialist in internal medicine–the very person that most of the people at this party hope that neither they nor their horses will ever see facing them in her scrubs, holding her medical tablet, and bearing bad news.

Tonight they’ll be making a point of getting one of her business cards.

The party is Thoroughbred racing’s Eclipse Awards, the annual gala to open the envelopes and name the horses of the year. But there will be a special moment when Dr. Laura Javsicas walks to the stage and receives an award.

Dr. Javsicas was the internal medicine specialist who treated the racehorse Paynter last summer. She was working at the Upstate Equine Medical Center in Schuylerville, New York when one of the track veterinarians referred Paynter to the hospital for possible colitis.

Paynter may have walked off the horse van by himself but he came with an entourage, led by owner Ahmed Zayat of Zayat Racing, one of America’s leading stables of racehorses. He’s not like any other owner; he vowed that his popular colt would not be kept from public view. There were cell phone photos, serial tweets, and press interviews. Paynter’s management was in the hands of Justin Zayat, son of the owner and a college student.

By early October, Paynter recovered enough to be transferred to the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, where Dr Javsicas trained, for surgery under the care of Dr. Louise Southwood, as reported by The Jurga Report. He was later transferred to Maryland’s Fair Hill Equine Training Center for rehabilitation.

Paynter’s condition may have changed over the last half of 2012 but one thing did not change, and that was Zayat’s lavish praise for the treatment his horse received in the hands of Dr. Laura Javsicas.

So, when the horse’s recovery from colitis and laminitis was voted the “Moment of the Year” by racing fans through the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Zayat asked Dr Javsicas to be the one to accept it during tonight’s awards.

First of all, Dr Javsicas is a graduate of Cornell University and earned her veterinary degree at the Penn Vet,?University of Pennsylvania?School of Veterinary Medicine program. She has worked at Hagyard Equine Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky and then went on to study at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine as she prepared for her specialty; she is now board-certified as a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. She moved to New York to work at Upstate, and last week began working at Rhinebeck Equine Clinic, also in New York.

TJR: Were you ready for a colitis case like Paynter?

Dr J: Yes, I’ve treated colitic quite a bit. It is challenging because of the potential complications; they are usually complex cases.

TJR: Was this your first high-profile case?

Dr. J: I have treated high-caliber horses before, but never in quite this type of circumstance. I’d like to say that I would treat every horse the same. With colitis, you don’t have many options but to give each one undivided attention. It is the nature of the disease, whether it is a 4-H pony or Paynter.

TJR: You used cryotherapy (continuous icing of the foot and lower limb) on Paynter to help avoid the common complication of laminitis?

Dr J: Yes, I believe that cryotherapy is very beneficial. When I was a resident, I worked on a horse that had colitis and we iced his front legs but couldn’t ice his hinds because he was such a bad kicker. We’d put ice on him and he’d kick it off. He ended up getting laminitis, but just in his hind feet. Unfortunately, he had to be put down.

TJR: Dr Bryan Fraley of Fraley Equine Podiatry from Kentucky was a consultant for you when the laminitis started. How did you happen to work with him?

Dr J: I didn’t know him, but he came highly recommended by Dr Slovis at Hagyard, where I had done my residency. He just happened to be working on cases in the Boston area and postponed his flight back to Kentucky. He drove up here instead.

TJR: It sounds like Paynter had acute laminitis that did not become chronic, i.e. rotate. Would that be accurate?

Dr. J: Yes, he never rotated. He did have radiographic evidence of thickening (of the hoof-laminar zone). He had edema in all his legs, and feet, from the infection. He was never very lame.

TJR: What about pain?

Dr. J: The pain was mild, relatively. Mr Zayat did not want him to suffer. He was never in a lot of pain. I would say that this is a case where persistence paid off. It is hard to know when to persist.

TJR: Can you describe your relationship with Mr Zayat?

Dr. J: (laughs) He is tremendously generous. Amazingly generous, actually. And it wasn’t just to me. You know, sometimes I work on a case and never even talk to the owner. This one was different. He only came to visit once, about a week into (the colitis), before the laminitis. He made sure I stayed in the loop after the horse moved to New Bolton Center, too.

TJR: And that brings us to tonight.

Dr J: Yes. (laughs) I hope he’s going to be there!


Meanwhile, three thousand or more miles away in Arcadia, California, Paynter is back in the hands of trainer Bob Baffert, who told the Zayat Racing web site: “Paynter looks great and is galloping a mile and a quarter every day. He’s moving really well and loves what he’s doing. You never would know he had been sick. He’s a special horse and as tough as they come. It’s truly incredible.”

The fans thought so, too. We’ll be cheering for Dr. Javsicas tonight when she receives the award. You can watch too: the awards will be broadcast live on the Daily Racing Form web site, and on HRTV. If there’s a tv on at the Baffert barn, Paynter might hear a voice he knows.

“Power up, Paynter” may have been the slogan that Mr. Zayat used to energize the horse’s fans, but tonight you’ll see the woman who had the power in her practice to help a very sick horse do just that.




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