Purdue veterinarians help baby horse learn to walk

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WTHR) -- When Susan and Robert Gilliland brought their 14-year-old mare, Josie, to Purdue to remove an ovarian tumor in 2013, the doctors earned their trust.

The surgery went well, and the Gillilands knew if they ever needed other care for the horse, Purdue would be the place they'd go. So when now 18-year-old Josie got pregnant, and it appeared she may have some complications, the Gillilands knew where to take her.

"Josie has a history at Purdue," said Susan Gilliland. "We knew that if there were any complications with the birth, Purdue was the only place able to do a cesarean section."

In May, Josie birthed "Chalee's Dream Jet," with seemingly no issues - until doctors noticed the foal was struggling to stand and walk.

After three months of care at Purdue University Large Animal Hospital, Dr. Gillian Haanen said Jet is now able to go home walking normally.

Josie and Jet both have a special part of the Gilliland's life. Josie brought joy to the couple's daughter, Chalee, who died in 2012 at 11 years old from complications caused by cystic fibrosis. Chalee grew up and raced with Josie.

"Horses and barrel racing were her physical therapy and life support," Susan said. "They set her free."

Chalee's dream was to see Josie have a baby. And while she didn't live long enough to see that dream, Chalee's parents call Jet a blessing.

"We don’t mind that Jet isn’t a barrel racer," said Susan. "This is what Chalee would have wanted."

"Unfortunately, when Jet came out, his hind limbs were a bit malformed," Haanen said. The deformity caused him to walk on the backs of his hind legs instead of his hooves.

Doctors gave Jet special shoes to stand him upright and strengthen his ligaments.

Jet went home with the Gillilands Aug. 6.

After Chalee's death, the Gillilands created the Chalee Gilliland Foundation to support and serve people with cystic fibrosis. The foundation's first accomplishment was putting on a charity barrel racing event to raise money for a friend with cystic fibrosis who needed a lung transplant. It has been active ever since.

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