A Smyth County family that roots for Virginia Tech's archrival has a good reason to love a Hokie now, as it's the name of a donkey foal brought back to health at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

“It was the most convenient name at the time that honors what I thought was a true blessing of getting great care at Virginia Tech,“ said Jeff Comer, M.S. ’93. “It will provide her a lasting legacy with that imprint of what she had go through at birth to make it.”

While Comer received a master’s degree from Virginia Tech in educational leadership, his two sons attended the University of Virginia and the Comers have family in the Charlottesville area, so they have been Wahoo fans over the years. 

But the family of Kristie Comer, Jeff Comer’s wife, who along with her brothers Craig and Tim Barbrow own the barn and acreage where Comer keeps his donkeys, has Hokie pedigree, also. Their great uncle was Stuart K. Cassell Sr., longtime financial and business manager at Virginia Tech and the namesake of Cassell Coliseum. 

On Nov. 10, Comer found Hokie trapped in a fence by the barn. The newborn’s separation from her mother not only left Hokie hypothermic and weak, but the mother rejected the foal and refused to nurse Hokie.

“She had gotten her left hoof hung up in an old dog fence that had fallen on the ground,” Comer said. “When I found her, I couldn’t even pull out her hoof, I had to get wire cutters. When I found her, I stayed with her most of the night. Mama was having some problems as well, it was obvious there wasn’t any nursing going on.”

Comer called a local veterinarian -- Jenna Moore of Abingdon Equine Veterinary Services and a 2010 graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine -- the next morning as Hokie could barely stand. “It was obvious if she didn’t get some attention, she probably wasn’t going to make it,” Comer said.

So Comer and a son loaded Hokie into a SUV and drove her more than an hour up Interstate 81 to the teaching hospital in Blacksburg. 

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At the hospital, Hokie was observed to have weak mental faculties, no suckle reflex, low body temperature, low blood sugar, rapid and irregular heartbeat, and dehydration. An intravenous catheter was placed in the foal’s right jugular vein to administer needed fluids and nutrients.

Not being able to nurse meant that Hokie had not received critical colostrum to boost the foal’s immunity. A tube was inserted through the donkey’s nose into its stomach to supply a milk substitute and antibiotics were administered intravenously.

Within three days, Hokie was standing more often and developing a suckle reflex. But an X-ray showed a partial dislocation in a hind leg joint, requiring a bandage. She was gradually weaned off IV fluids as she was drinking most of her daily calories.

After a couple more weeks of some ups and downs, Hokie was released.  

Virginia Buechner-Maxwell, professor of large animal internal medicine, said the successful treatment of cases like Hokie’s are the result of a team approach that begins with the recommendations of the referring veterinarian and includes senior faculty, residents in training, the nursing staff, and veterinary students at the teaching hospital.

“These cases come here because they require a team, and that’s what we’ve got,” Buechner-Maxwell said.

Early in the new year, Comer reports that Hokie is experiencing a few bouts of diarrhea but otherwise seems to be doing well.

“Hokie received excellent care,” Comer said. “I like the fact that they gave me daily updates, that was very beneficial. You could tell they really cared. That’s their mindset with every animal, they want them to prosper.” 

Donkey foal with casts on his back legs.
Hokie the donkey foal during his treatment at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Blacksburg, VA. Photo by Andrew Mann for Virginia Tech.
Donkey foal in a stall.
Hokie the donkey foal during his treatment at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Blacksburg, VA. Photo by Andrew Mann for Virginia Tech.

Written by Kevin Myatt, Writer/Editor for the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine


Andrew Mann
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