A second chance:Vlahos gives horses another chance with prostheticsWritten by Saige Albert
Vlahos’s passion for working with equine in his vet clinic has driven the success of the business, as well as that of his second equine hospital in Cody, and he is well known for his work with artificial equine limbs.
Back to the roots
Vlahos grew up in Ohio and attended The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio for his undergraduate and graduate work, as well as vet school.
With 24 years’ experience as an equine veterinarian, Vlahos comments, “It has been my passion since my youth. It’s a huge privilege and gift to work with horses. I got my first horse when I was 12 years old and that was it. There was no other option for me.”
He moved to Wyoming in 1997 to buy a veterinary clinic.
“I’d been coming to Wyoming since the early ‘90s to hunt and fish, and I just fell in love with Wyoming,” says Vlahos. “I thought, ‘My life is too short to not live here,’ so I came out and ended up building this facility.”
His practice in Sheridan takes care of all needs of horses and serves animals from around the country.
“We do a lot of orthopedics, fracture and arthrodesis, or fusion, surgeries,” he says. “We also do a lot of arthroscopic and colic surgeries, but we do all the routine stuff as well. We float teeth and dig out abscesses – it’s not just specialty stuff.”
He adds, “We also work with vets all over Wyoming.”
Vlahos says that when other veterinarians have tough cases, he steps up and accepts the challenge. Horses come from across the country for Vlahos’s equine expertise.
“We do tackle hard cases that people wouldn’t otherwise do, or would give up on, and it’s worked out pretty well for a lot of horses and for us,” notes Vlahos. “It’s fun.”
World travels and tough cases
Vlahos started working with artificial limbs for horses almost 13 years ago when a horse came in that needed either an artificial leg or euthanization.
“I did my research on things that were being done and worked with two of my colleagues,” he says, speaking of the procedure for a prosthetic surgery. “They walked me through my first one. It was great and we have been doing them ever since. We do a couple every year.”
In January, Vlahos had the opportunity to tackle a tough case 8,000 miles from his hospital when a request for his services came from the south Asian country of Bhutan.
“We had a horse that got hit by a truck out there, and a lady found out about us because of our work with artificial limbs,” Vlahos mentions. “It was a big, bad open fracture on a back leg. There is no vet clinic in the country that works on horses, so we brought basically our whole hospital to Bhutan.”
Vlahos says he and his staff fly all over the country, but that trip was the first overseas. To go to Bhutan Vlahos had to get permission from both the Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Ministry and the Prime Minister.
“We sent 10 flight cases of equipment to Bhutan, and fixed the horse,” he says. “We’re about six weeks out of surgery, and the horse is doing fine.”
The cutting edge
When he’s not busy tending to patients, Vlahos keeps up on new technology and the latest developments in equine medicine.
“When we aren’t working we are reading,” he says, “and we all attend a lot of meetings.”
Some of their research has revolved around helping to ensure success in their prosthetics.
“As a group of patients, we have some challenges, because, until very recently, a lot of the implants we were using were human implants, so they have a potential for failure,” explains Vlahos. “We now use a screw-locking plate system that has been around for about two years for horses.”
The new screws allow treatment of a wider range of animals, including those with open or infected fractures. In the past, infection would loosen screws, leading to failure of the implant.
“Infection is a huge deal in horses. Historically, if a horse had an open fracture, we would not be able to save them, but with some of the new implants we have a better chance,” he adds.
The next generation
On top of tackling hard cases, he also works to train young veterinarians by taking new graduates as interns.
“We usually have one or two interns, and usually they stay a year,” he explains. “The profession has evolved, and, as cities have gotten bigger, horse populations have decreased and the ability to train students in the universities for horses has really declined.”
As a result, private practices take new graduates and train them in a hands-on environment. This year Megan Hayden, an Auburn Vet School graduate from Baton Rouge, La., has joined the Sheridan Equine Hospital team.
“Meg is really sharp, and we are grateful,” says Vlahos of his intern. “I tell all the young vets that if you absolutely love what you are doing a quarter century from now, that is what you should be doing,”
Vlahos comments, “We are just humble servants. There is nothing special about us, other than we love what we do. It’s a blast.”