by Elisabeth Torg
“Paynter’s return to the races was nothing short of sensational. It is remarkable that he is alive, let alone racing again.” — The New York Times, June 13, 2013
When the thoroughbred race horse Paynter, second place finisher at the 2012 Belmont Stakes, recovered from not one but two potentially life-threatening illnesses, the world knew about it and celebrated. His recovery was so impressive that it was voted the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s “Moment of the Year,” presented at the 2012 Eclipse Awards banquet, a prestigious annual awards banquet for thoroughbreds held in January, 2013.
Standing at the podium to accept the award on behalf of Paynter and his owner, Ahmed Zayat, was Philadelphian Laura Javsicas, V.M.D., a locally raised (Oreland) and educated equine veterinarian who took care of Paynter during his darkest hours and was the driving force behind his recovery.
Laura Javsicas, 36, knows horses, shall we say, inside and out. She specializes in equine internal medicine, which means she takes care of sick horses that don’t have surgical problems. Think horses with respiratory diseases, cardiac diseases and, in the case of Paynter, intestinal issues. Whether it’s a sick foal, someone’s “backyard horse” or a thoroughbred, Javsicas has cared for them.
At first take, Javsicas comes across as casual, petite and unassuming, but it doesn’t take long to realize that this is a woman to be reckoned with. She’s smart as all get out, educated to the hilt and has a passion and talent that have taken her to top educational institutions around the country as well as into the global spotlight.
Raised Quaker, Javsicas attended Friends’ schools throughout her childhood. Locally she graduated from both Plymouth Meeting Friends School (PMFS) and Germantown Friends School. (Her earlier years were spent at Greenwood Friends School in Millville, Pennsylvania; her mother, Anne Javsicas, was one of the founders of Greenwood Friends School and went on to head PMFS for 22 years.) While at PMFS, Javsicas spent plenty of time outdoors, as well as learning science at venues like the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. Germantown Friends was where she truly recognized her love of and talent for science and learned to write well, she says.
From GFS Javsicas went on to Cornell University, where she managed to complete all the science requirements for vet school and compete on the university’s equestrian team for four years, co-captaining the team in both her junior and senior years. From there she applied and was accepted to the University Of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2004. While many go directly into practice after vet school, Javsicas went on to do a one-year internship at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Kentucky, the epicenter of the thoroughbred industry, followed by a three-year residency in equine internal medicine in Florida. That’s eight years of veterinary training in all. She’s also a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Medicine.
It is Javsicas’ specialty in equine internal medicine, combined with being in the right place at the right time, which led her path to cross with Paynter’s. Not long after placing second in the Belmont Stakes and winning the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes, Paynter went to Saratoga for training. Soon after, he fell ill with a fever, diarrhea and colitis, an inflammation of the bowel. Javsicas was working at the Upstate Equine Medical Center in Saratoga at the time and was the only equine internal medicine vet in the area, so Paynter was sent to her for care.
“His name sounded familiar,” said Laura, but at the time she wasn’t following the racing industry closely, so she didn’t really understand the full scope of who was coming her way. She found out quickly as Paynter’s owner tweeted regular status updates about Paynter, thrusting the racehorse’s medical care — and Javsicas — into the global spotlight. Calls came in from around the world with medical advice, and the media came knocking, too. Javsicas was interviewed by news outlets CNN, ESPN and others.
Javsicas helped save Paynter’s life in two ways. By treating his legs with cryotherapy (extreme cold temperature), she helped stave off the development of laminitis, a potential side effect of colitis that can be debilitating and in some cases life-threatening. Using abdominal ultrasounds, she also helped identify an area of abscessation (formation of an abscess, a collection of pus in any part of the body that in most cases causes swelling and inflammation around it) in the wall of his cecum (the equivalent of the human appendix), sending him off for surgery in the nick of time.
Laura spent hours with the thoroughbred, sometimes staying overnight at the clinic. She cared for him during some of the toughest times; normally a 1200-pound horse, Paynter was down to only 900 pounds at one point. Javsicas’ thorough and lifesaving measures didn’t go unnoticed by Paynter’s owner. That’s why he flew her to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to accept Paynter’s award at the Eclipse Awards banquet.
As a child Laura always loved animals, she said, and was always surrounded by all sorts, including dogs, cats, a guinea pig, fish, hamsters and, at one point, a newt her brother brought home that proceeded to live for 25 years. “I decided early that I was interested in being a vet,” she said. “I never really considered doing anything else.”
These days Javsicas practices veterinary medicine at Rhinebeck Equine in New York State, where she continues to care for horses. Rhinebeck is an exclusively equine practice located in Dutchess County in the Hudson River Valley, about 120 miles north of New York City. As for Paynter, after his recovery Laura went to watch him race. She hasn’t had a chance to visit with him one-on-one, she said, but hopes to one day. Paynter was recently retired from racing and is now a stud horse.
In her spare time Dr. Javsicas enjoys riding, hiking, kayaking, cooking and traveling. Her husband, David, is the special education coordinator at Troy Prep Charter School, in Troy, NY.
For more information, visit www.rhinebeckequine.com.