When hopes for a smooth operation were dashed by Rocky the donkey’s extreme reaction to anaesthetic, six of our veterinary experts pulled together to fight for his life.

The Donkey Sanctuary’s veterinary team needed to call upon all of their combined expertise to give one high-risk patient the best chance of survival.

Rocky in sunshine at Brookfield
Rocking enjoying the sunshine.
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Operating theatre prepared for surgery

Brookfield Hospital's specialist operating theatre.

Rocky, a resident at Paccombe Training Centre in Devon, had developed a lump on his neck that quickly started restricting his movement. Thankfully, Rocky’s grooms picked up on the lump and called in Paccombe’s veterinary surgeon, Jesus Buil, to investigate the lesion further.

After taking a scan of the mass, Jesus recognised the seriousness of the Rocky’s condition and arranged for him to be transported to our specialist donkey hospital for surgical intervention.

A sudden turn in events

Rocky was prepared for surgery like any other donkey, with his friend Frank by his side for support and company. Jesus, along with fellow Veterinary Surgeons Elena Barrio and Alex Thiemann, began to investigate and remove the mass.

It was at this point that Rocky took a rapid turn for the worse.

He had a rare reaction to the anaesthetic, and his condition quickly started deteriorating. Fears that he may not survive the operation arose, when thankfully Elena – one our most experienced anaesthetists – managed to bring Rocky back around.

Operating upon Rocky’s mass was going to be a high-risk, complicated case – but the fact that the mass needed removing was beyond a doubt. In order to safely perform the operation and save Rocky’s life, our veterinary team needed to pool their knowledge and experience.

A team effort to remove melon-sized mass

The Head of Clinical Services, Luke Poore, together with Veterinary Surgeons Becky Sullivan and Vicky Grove, all stepped in to offer their expertise, and the team pulled together to give Rocky the very best chance of making it through the operation.

Elena and Becky worked together to anaesthetise and carefully manage Rocky’s condition, while Luke and Vicky performed surgery on the mass in his neck.

“The mass was the size of a melon.” said Vicky. “It must have been excruciating for poor Rocky.”

Success for Team Rocky

Thankfully, with the combined effort of the veterinary team, the mass was safely removed.

Rocky was reunited with his close companion Frank, and the pair are taking things easy as Rocky recovers.

Thanks to the hospital’s design, Rocky has been able to recuperate alongside Frank in a stable, yard and paddock all to themselves, with expert help close at hand. The future now looks much brighter for Rocky, who will soon be able to return home, bearing the scars of his ordeal.

Rocky and Frank at Brookfield
Rocky's surgery site
Rocky grazing at Brookfield
Rocky reunited with Frank at Brookfield Hospital as his would heals following surgery.

In spite of his life-threatening ordeal, Rocky is chipper, alert and recovering well. Although the repercussions of Rocky’s lump were almost devastating, it turns out that the mass itself may have originated from a more humble injury – a splinter.

“Rocky had a deep infection in the muscles,” said Vicky. “Samples were taken and sent for analysis, but the cause was most likely a piece of plant material – such as a thorn – which had become trapped and burrowed deeper, causing the infection.”

“It’s unusual to have so many vets involved in one case,” added Luke. “But without our combined effort Rocky wouldn’t have survived. The whole team have worked really hard over the last two months, and we’re all so pleased that Rocky is now well enough to return back to Paccombe Farm.”

Rocky and Frank with vet team
Rocky with the team that set him on the road to recovery - not forgetting his faithful Frank, of course.
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