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International Scholars Archive > Postcard from Chile

Postcard from Chile

Last Updated 3 Year(s) ago


  1. Source: Dr. Allison Stewart

  2. Source: Dr. Allison Stewart

  3. Source: Dr. Allison Stewart

By Dr. Allison Stewart

Valdivia, Chile —

Dr. Allison Stewart, associate professor in equine internal medicine, arrived in Valdivia, Chile, in March 2011 for a three-week faculty exchange program at the Clinica Veterinario at Austral University. Bruno Cavalho, a Brazilian veterinian who is Austral’s equine surgeon, served as her host. 

“Bruno spent two months with us in the clinic at Auburn last summer, and Dean Boosinger needed someone to spend two weeks visiting the vet school in Chile and I, of course, was happy to oblige,” said Dr. Stewart.
 
Below is her e-mail written while in Valdivia.
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Dr. Allison Stewart, associate professor in equine internal medicine, arrived in Valdivia, Chile, in March 2011 for a three-week faculty exchange program at the Clinica Veterinario at Austral University. Bruno Cavalho, a Brazilian veterinian who is Austral’s equine surgeon, served as her host. 

“Bruno spent two months with us in the clinic at Auburn last summer, and Dean Boosinger needed someone to spend two weeks visiting the vet school in Chile and I, of course, was happy to oblige,” said Dr. Stewart.  
Below is her e-mail written while in Valdivia.

I don’t think I had been here more than two days when Bruno received a call from my friend Mark in Alabama after being contacted by my very concerned family about a substantial earthquake that occurred in Chile hours before. Glad to know the Australian news is still such a sensitive source of information, as it was actually the first we had heard about the quake! My family certainly had cause for concern as 2000 people were killed in an earthquake last year in Chile and the city of Valdivia is the site of the biggest earthquake known to man, with the quake of 1960 reaching 9.5 on the Richter scale and flattening half of the city. Luckily we had not noticed this one, but apparently little tremors occur daily and occasionally the big one hits and the earth opens with land drops up to two meters!

Chile is also the home of a great chain of volcanoes. The combination of volcanic activity and plate tectonics created the Andes Mountains and the parallel fertile valleys. The volcanic soil is rich in many nutrients but very deficient in selenium. Measuring glutathione peroxidase is a daily occurrence in the lab and already I have seen several cases of selenium deficiency in horses and a llama.

Bruno has been kind enough to tour me around the last two Sundays. The first was to the coast to see the ruins of the 16th-century Spanish fort system that guards the entrance to the river and the city of Valdivia. We also went to a small festival and feasted on a plate (a small mountain may be a more appropriate term) of fresh steamed mussels and clams cooked with ham, chicken, onions, and coriander. Such a magnificent feast was only 3500 pesos or about $7!!! You can buy a huge piece of smoked fish for about $4. We are in the peak of the berry season, so the markets are full of raspberries and blueberries, and plump, sweet blackberries line the roadways and pastures.

Last Sunday we drove south to Patagonia to visit lakeside German towns resting in the shadows of snowcapped volcanoes. World-class skiing down the steep volcanoes is available almost year round. The waters are warm and many people were swimming, wind surfing, and water-skiing. So picturesque! We hiked to a waterfall and looked over the Andes at Argentina. Argentina is apparently much cheaper than Chile and great mountain resorts are just a few hours away. For morning tea we stopped and feasted on roadside plums and blackberries, and lunch was at a German restaurant – fresh grilled salmon.

I actually spent my vacation week helping Bruno in the hospital. He has several interns and students completing research projects and combined with the hospital caseload, this makes for some really long days. Most of the horses are Chilean Criollo horses – about 14 hands, Roman-nosed and muscular, looking like a cross between a Paso and a Quarter Horse. On the lush clover and rye pastures, they are prone to obesity and metabolic syndrome, and laminitis is common.

The first weekend I was here was the qualifying final for the Chilean rodeo. We went two nights as Bruno was the official veterinarian. The competitors wore traditional woven ponchos, wide-rimmed fat hats, and huge radiating-spoked spurs. A pair of horses are used to move a steer around the half-moon shaped stadium, then out into the main arena where they canter laterally beside the beast and then bump the steer into a padded wall with the horse’s chest to tip him over. They are judged on the quality of the lateral canter, the speed of movement and the way in which they bumped into the steer, with one point for ramming it on the neck, two points for the chest, and four points for the hip. The crowd would roar when four points were gained or if there was a woman rider. This is the first year women were allowed to compete and they were doing exceptionally well to the delight of the crowd. The best of these horses tend to get sold to Brazil for several hundred thousand dollars.

At the clinic they also see some finer and less valuable urban draft (cart) horses. These horses pull wagons around the city and are their owner’s only form of transport. They tend to arrive at the clinic not by horse trailer, but at quite a fast pace pulling their wagons. The wagons are parked in the car park, the horses brought in for examination, and the owners generally return home by foot. Unfortunately most are here for lameness, so they often make the trip by hoof, and if they are lucky, they are led beside a bicycle rather than having to pull the wagon. The wagons don’t have a seat so the drivers stand perched precariously on top, ducking tree branches as they race through the streets.

The level of medicine practiced here has been impressive. Bruno is a very thorough clinician and has great skill with tendon and joint ultrasound. He collects his own bone marrow and isolates stem cells for transplanting into injured tendons and ligaments. They also have radiology and CT facilities. I am impressed in the way Bruno tries to save his clients’ money. The clinic sees a large number of wounds and the owners of the urban draft horses have very little money. The interns wash and resterilize the bandage material and the dollars are carefully utilized to provide the best for the horses and their owners. Bruno also obtained a grant to help subsidize the care of these urban draft horses that are so important to the livelihood of their owners. The equine group has a very large grant aimed at developing better semen transport media, and collecting and disseminating quality semen throughout the country for people breeding heavy draft horses which are frequently used on the small 30-acre holdings where mechanized agriculture is not feasible. The equipment in the reproduction laboratory is world class.

I have been involved in the medical work-up of several patients and I have been learning a great deal from Bruno about lameness diagnostics. My Spanish is also improving. The Latin foundation of the language makes the anatomic and medical nomenclature very similar to English and I can sometimes get the gist of a regular conversation, but I have a huge way to go! Chilean Spanish also has the reputation as being the most difficult dialect to understand.

When the clinic is quiet I have been giving lectures and labs to the interns and students. On my last weekend I will present five lectures to be translated into Spanish to local equine practitioners on neonatology and metabolic syndrome. Many drugs are not available here, though some vets are able to bring medications from Brazil or Argentina. Other medications are available at prices much cheaper than the US, while some are prohibitively expensive. As far as sedation is concerned, there is ACE, xylazine, morphine, and fentanyl. It can be quite a challenge to practice without detomidine and butorphanol.

The animal science department has a herd of llamas, but none of the clinicians are trained to treat them. I am certainly no camelid expert, but again I found myself treating llamas, adding to my cases in Paris and Australia!

So far it has been a great experience. There is apparently a trip planned to Dean Tadich’s sheep farm and to go riding in the foothills below the volcanoes. I haven’t actually taken my week’s vacation as working in the clinic has been so interesting. I am also staying at a gorgeous little two-bedroom cabin on the lake’s edge surrounded by ancient towering conifers. It’s nice to come home and just admire the view, though normally it is after 9:30 p.m. before we get back, but the nights have been clear and in the darkness far from the city I have a wonderful view of the star-filled southern sky. Finally I can sit on the porch and relax with a glass of wine to accompany my raspberries and smoked salmon. I certainly have no reason to complain!

Dr. Alison Stewart
Associate Professor in Equine Internal Medicine
Department of Clinical Sciences

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