Hall of Fame jockey Randy Romero suffered another health setback when a small tumor was discovered in his stomach while he was being screened as a candidate for a liver and/or kidney transplant.
Romero, 57, said May 15 the tumor is the size of a marble and that surgeons will try removing it using a laser. If the laser is not effective, then the tumor will have to be cut out. What is unknown is whether the tumor is cancerous. If it is malignant, then he will lose his place on the organ transplant waiting lists.
"I'm trying to be patient and wait to see what happens," said Romero, who has an appointment and more tests at the Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans May 19, at which time he hopes the surgery on his tumor will be scheduled. "But I'm stretching it out as it is now. I've only got about six to 10 months left with my liver."
Romero has been battling a series of health issues going back to 1983, when a near-fatal sauna explosion at Oaklawn Park burned 60% of his body. While receiving blood transfusions during skin graph operations, he received blood tainted with hepatitis C. The blood transfusions saved his life, Romero said, but the hepatitis has severely damaged his liver.
"I lived 14 years I wouldn't have lived otherwise," he said. "They saved me, but now..."
Romero's profession as a top rider also took its toll. He has talked openly about repeatedly vomiting to maintain weight—a habit known as "flipping"—that caused damage to his kidneys. Romero had one of kidneys removed in 2008 and his remaining one is now failing him.
A month ago, Romero got the word that he qualified to be put on waiting lists for a liver and a kidney. He said he's spent the last three weeks making regular trips to the hospital for extensive screening and tests. It was during one of these screenings that doctors discovered the stomach tumor.
"Nobody had any clue," he said. "I never felt bad, so I was shocked."
The health purgatory Romero now lives in has made him both reflective and scared.
"You know, I've lived a good life," he said. "I've ridden in Hong Kong and Japan. I got into the Hall of Fame. There is no telling how good a rider I could have really been if I hadn't been sick.
"With this latest thing, I'm getting scared now. But at the same time, I don't know, so I'm not giving up."