CHICAGO - Severely injured jockey Rene Douglas continues to make steady progress after undergoing seven-hour back and neck surgery following a one-horse spill Saturday at Arlington Park, but a long-term prognosis for Douglas's recovery still is murky.
Doreen Razo, wife of jockey Eddie Razo and close friends with Douglas's wife, Natalie, has been with Douglas every day since the accident, and said Douglas, 42, was alert and responsive, and no longer was under heavy sedation as of Wednesday morning. Doreen Razo said that Douglas still "doesn't have any sensation yet in his feet or his legs," but that does not signify permanent paralysis.
"They think it would start at his thigh level and then on down," Razo said. "When the accident first happened, he did have sensation in his foot. He's got muscle tones that are working, that if he was in more serious condition would not work. The spine is a mysterious thing. We just have to wait for the swelling and everything to come down, and it's just going to be day by day. They didn't expect anything significant in terms of movement for five to seven days. They weren't worried that he wasn't able to feel this or feel that. Nothing has been a step back. All the doctors come out of there with a smile on their face."
Douglas suffered broken bones in his neck, but his worst injury was compression of the T-5 and T-6 vertebrae lower on his spine. The T-6 vertebra was jammed into the spinal cord, which is why Douglas has suffered paralysis. Surgery early Sunday morning decompressed the vertebrae and then fused them. The area of trauma remains inflamed and swollen, and firm longer-term assessments won't be possible until Douglas heals for several days.
Razo said that doctors were trying to determine the best way to remove Douglas from a ventilator and detach the breathing tube that prevents him from speaking. Because Douglas has several broken ribs, he was put on a ventilator when he was under heavy sedation.
"It's a whole big process, and they want to do it the correct way so they don't have to put him back on it," Razo said Wednesday morning. "He's trying to communicate. He tries to write, but his hands are swollen from everything and he's in a neck brace. Last night, it was almost like a game of charades, with him trying to tell us things."
Douglas went down at the top of the homestretch in the Arlington Matron while riding the 4-year-old filly Born to Be. Racing just behind the leaders, Born to Be was bumped and pushed out when Sky Mom and jockey Jamie Theriot came off the fence and tried to go through a hole. Born to Be clipped heels with tiring pacesetter Boudoir and went down, rolling over onto Douglas, who was trapped under the horse until track personnel rolled Born to Be off the rider. Born to Be was euthanized because of serious injury.
Arlington stewards disqualified Sky Mom from fifth to last on Saturday, and held a hearing concerning the incident Sunday. Monday, they handed Theriot a 30-day suspension for jostling Born to Be and pushing her out, and on Wednesday, Theriot's agent, Fred Aime, filed an appeal of the suspension with the Illinois Racing Board. An evidentiary hearing will be scheduled once the appeal is processed, and after the hearing, the matter goes before the full racing board for a decision. The board, though it rarely does so, has the power to increase or decrease a penalty issued by stewards.
Theriot, reached by phone Wednesday, conceded that he had bumped Born to Be, but said he was appealing the length of the suspension. Theriot said he had been suspended shorter periods for similar infractions.
"Yes, my horse came out and brushed," Theriot said. "If I have seven days, fine, I'd have started serving it right away."
Theriot, 30, rode races on Sunday at Churchill, but said the incident was weighing heavily on his psyche.
"It bothers me to no end," Theriot said. "I never, ever thought being a rider I'd be involved in this. It's really tearing me apart, the condition he's in. It's going to change my life forever. It's going to change me as a rider, it's going to change me as a family man, it's going to change me as a normal person."
Doreen Razo said that a parade of Arlington-based jockeys had been to Douglas's room at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital intensive-care unit to visit. Douglas is scheduled to spend two weeks in the intensive care unit before being transferred to a Northwestern rehabilitation clinic, where he is expected to be housed for four to six weeks.