By Jim Freer
Meeting in Florida Jan. 18, representatives of the Jockeys’ Guild and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis said they will partner to develop standard programs for on-track treatment of spinal and brain injuries suffered by jockeys and exercise riders.
Treatments by doctors and paramedics could include intravenous fluid injections to cool the body – a procedure that has proven beneficial when administered directly following those types of injuries, said Dr. W. Dalton Dietrich, scientific director of the research institute in Miami, Fla.
Doctors in Buffalo, NY., administered that treatment to Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett shortly after he suffered a total dislocation of the spinal cord and was paralyzed from the neck down in a game last Sept. 9, Dietrich said. Following other treatments, Everett began walking without assistance in December of 2007.
Publicity over Everett’s recovery has been a catalyst in gaining attention for immediate intravenous cooling and for ongoing research for injection of human cells to help spinal patients regain functions, said Dr. Barth Green, the Miami Project’s chairman.
During the meeting, Guild president John Velazquez and national manager Terry Meyocks said they plan to form a coalition on injury treatment along with Miami Project officials. Early goals include working with racetracks to train medical personnel and facilitating the injection of body coolants immediately after injuries.
Gulfstream Park president Bill Murphy and Keeneland medical director Dr. Barry Schumer said they plan to join the Guild and the Miami Project to meet those goals and in developing programs to raise money to help Miami Project research.
"We can do many things if we have a partnership," said Velazquez, one of the nation’s top jockeys. He and other members of the racing industry told doctors that goals should include setting minimum standards for training of track medical personnel.
Green recommended that tracks should always have paramedics, if not doctors, on site during racing and training hours.
The Guild expects to meet with officials of several other tracks, including Calder Race Course president Ken Dunn, Meyocks said.
Dietrich will speak Feb. 19 at the joint annual meeting of the Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Harness Tracks of America. The meeting will be held Feb. 17-20 at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Short-term risk has been shown to be "near zero" in administering intravenous coolants at the site of injury or on the way to a hospital, Green said, but questions remain about the effectiveness and possible risk if coolants are used in long-term treatments.
Cooling can aid the body for several hours immediately after trauma. Then, restoration of normal body temperatures is vital, Miami Project doctors said.
The Miami Project is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for injection of a spinal cord patient’s cells back into the body to help regain functions. It has been testing a coolant and treatment system with lab animals and hopes to gain approval late this year for the procedure known as cellular therapeutic hypothermia.
The Miami Project was founded in 1985, and is part of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
The Miami Project’s president is Marc Buoniconti, who in 1985 was paralyzed from the neck down while playing football at The Citadel and has since been undergoing treatment at the project. He is the son of NFL Hall of Fame member Nick Buoniconti, the middle linebacker on the Miami Dolphins’ 1972 and 1973 Super Bowl champion teams.
At the meeting, Marc Buoniconti thanked Gulfstream and Churchill Downs Inc., Calder’s parent, for previous contributions to the Miami Project. Eighty-six cents of each dollar the center receives goes to research.
"We have invited them (Miami Project) out to Gulfstream to see what they can do with us." Murphy said. "Maybe we can institute a training program, and we hope others (tracks) will do the same."
Schumer noted that Keeneland president and CEO Nick Nicholson "always says that we do all we can on site," to treat rider injuries.
"We will be in future talks," with the Guild and Miami Project, Schumer said.
Several jockeys who have suffered spinal cord injuries receive ongoing treatment at the Miami Project.
"They do a great job," said Gary Donahue, who suffered vertebrae injuries in a race at Suffolk Downs in 1986. Donahue, an officer of the Disabled Jockeys Fund, competes in wheelchair events in tennis and other sports.