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Barbaro surgeon’s newest patient? A polar bear

/ Source: The Associated Press

The surgeon who has worked to save the life of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro will now try to help a polar bear with a broken leg, Erie Zoo officials said.

Dr. Dean Richardson will operate on Alcor, the 750-pound polar bear with two badly broken bones just above his right paw, sometime next week at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, where Barbaro is being treated, officials said.

“This doctor is one of the best in the world and they’ve got a state-of-the-art medical facility,” zoo spokesman Scott Mitchell said. “There couldn’t be a better scenario, given the circumstances.”

Zoo officials do not know exactly how Alcor broke his leg, but they suspect he did it Aug. 11 while playing with his brother Mizar, another 7-year-old bear who has been at the zoo since 2001.

The bear’s right front radius is shattered, while the weight-bearing bone in the leg, the ulna, is snapped in two, officials said. Because the breaks are so close to the paw, veterinarians who examined the bear on Thursday were pessimistic that they could be secured with rods or pins long enough to allow the leg to heal.

But a vet at the Cleveland Zoo put Erie Zoo officials in touch with members of Richardson’s medical team, who believe they can repair the leg.

“This will give him the best possible chance, but it’s still a polar bear that weighs 750 pounds,” Erie Zoo veterinarian Dr. P.J. Polumbo said. “Post-operatively, we’re not sure what’s going to happen. There’s still a lot of hurdles to overcome.”

Barbaro suffered life-threatening injuries when he broke three bones above and below his right rear ankle at the start of the Preakness in May. The horse is recovering from surgery as well as laminitis in his left rear hoof.