Jockey Birzer Paralyzed, Recovering from Surgery

Mountaineer Park-based jockey Gary Birzer, 27, remains paralyzed from the waist down after suffering injuries to his neck and spinal cord in a two-horse, spill July 20 at the Chester, W. Va. oval.

Birzer landed on his neck in the fall, breaking the C-6 and C-7 vertebral bones in his neck, and the C-5 through T-1 bones in his spinal column. He underwent stabilization surgery on July 22 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian Hospital. He was moved briefly to Montefiore University Hospital in Pittsburgh for rehabilitation, but was immediately transferred back to the surgical hospital suffering from pneumonial complications.

Speaking on July 28, fellow rider Maureen Andrews said Birzer remains "in and out of consciousness, but very peaceful. Our agent (Jimmy Isbell) has been with him the entire time -- he's such a great and caring guy, " she said.

A shaken Isbell said Birzer was "fighting the pneumonia, but stable."

Birzer was injured in the seventh race of the July 20 card at Mountaineer, when his mount -- Lil Bit of Rouge -- broke a leg and went down passing the half-mile pole. Though a second horse -- ridden by Louis Martinez -- fell behind them, Birzer sustained his injuries through the sudden, immediate contact with the ground.

Martinez was bruised in the incident but is in good condition. Lil Bit of Rouge had to be destroyed. Martinez' horse was not seriously injured.

At the time of the spill, Birzer was second among riders at the meet, and had won spring meet title.

He has a wife, Amy, and a 2-year-old daughter, Robyn.