02/06/2013 11:35AM

Dominguez released from rehabilitation center, discusses his future plans

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Barbara D. Livingston
Ramon Dominguez was released from the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital on Wednesday morning.

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Ramon Dominguez talked slowly and thoughtfully, the way he often does when answering questions. He spoke quietly, respectfully, and occasionally wittily.

Only this time, he wasn’t talking about his trip on a horse following a race, or about the accomplishments of another fabulous year that ended with an Eclipse Award.

He was talking about his health – literally his state of mind – and his desire to get healthy and ultimately back to doing what he does so well: riding race horses.

“I really feel excellent,” Dominguez said Tuesday afternoon in his first interview since suffering a skull fracture in a spill at Aqueduct on Jan. 18. “I have been in great hands since I came here, doing all different types of therapies. Everyone’s been extremely helpful. There’s really nothing I could ask to be better. I feel like everyone’s doing an excellent job getting me closer to my goal, which is to be 100 percent healthy and – whenever the doctor sees fit – for me to come back and ride.”

Dominguez, the three-time reigning Eclipse Award winner as North America’s outstanding jockey, moved one step closer to that goal Wednesday morning, when he was released from the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in Westchester County. Located approximately 30 miles north of Belmont Park, Burke is where Dominguez began a brain rehabilitation program last week. Dominguez will continue his rehabilitation on an out-patient basis at a hospital closer to his Long Island home.

Dominguez spoke to Daily Racing Form on Tuesday while sitting in the office of Dr. Mark Herceg, director of neuropsychology for Burke. Dominguez, dressed in a long-sleeved maroon shirt and black sweat pants and black sneakers, sat on a couch next to his wife, Sharon.

Also present for the interview were Burke officials Janet Goodman, a social worker for traumatic brain injuries, and Megan Frantz, a rehabilitation resident physician.

Not present was Dr. Barry Jordan, the assistant medical director of Burke’s brain injury program, who also is the chief medical officer of the New York State Athletic Commission and team physician for USA Boxing. Jordan also is part of the NFL Players’ Association’s Brain Injury Committee and attended Sunday’s Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Ultimately, it will be Jordan and Herceg who will green light when Dominguez can ride again.

“Dr. Jordan will probably want an appointment in three to four weeks, and we’ll know a lot more,” Goodman said.

Goodman said most patients who come to Burke don’t leave as quickly as Dominguez, who was initially treated for his injuries at Jamaica Medical Center before being transferred to New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center on Jan. 22.

“He came to us in much better shape than probably anybody else we’ve seen and is leaving faster,” Goodman said. “We’re expecting a 100 percent recovery on all levels.”

Dominguez has undergone and will continue to do various forms of occupational, physical, and speech therapy. So far, according to Goodman, “he’s aced every test.”

The symptoms doctors will be monitoring as Dominguez becomes more active are double-vision, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. Thus far, none have been prevalent.

“I have full range of motion, I don’t have any pain, but of course I’d be foolish to tell you I’m ready to come back, because you don’t know until you really get on horseback,” Dominguez, 36, said.

Dominguez said he has no recollection of the incident at Aqueduct in which his mount, Convocation, clipped heels with another horse, unseating Dominguez and sending him to the ground, where he appeared to get hit by a trailing horse. Dominguez said he is grateful to be headed home less than three weeks after the incident.

“Honestly, I feel very fortunate to be in the position that I’m in,” Dominguez said. “Looking back, I still don’t know the extent of what the injury looked like when I fell. But I know that it can always be worse, so to be contemplating, hopefully, coming back in the near future that’s great. But I’m able to put things in perspective, and really my priority is to get healthy and leave it up to the doctor. When he says it’s time to go and I feel good, okay. I could be feeling 100 percent and [if ] he says ‘wait another month’ that’s what I’ll do.”

“You guys all heard that,” Sharon Dominguez said on cue.

Doctors said that the fracture will heal on its own in a matter of weeks and that no surgery was needed. Dominguez has not shown any signs of memory loss. Herceg said his concern moving forward is Dominguez’s ability to process and retain new information.

“That’s the area of concern I still have, and it’s not necessarily your ability to learn it but to remember it and to be able to retrieve it on your own,” Herceg said to Dominguez. “You’re pretty good with cues and hints and multiple choice; the ability to pull it out on your own that’s still an area of concern. But that’s where that testing will be done in outpatient [therapy] and will give you finite data to where you are and where you should be.”

In addition to memory, Herceg said another primary area of focus is processing speed.

“Being able to really think, because in your career you got to make decisions really fast – much faster than the average person does, that’s something you want to be really be cognizant of as you move forward,” Herceg said.

Dominguez said he feels confident in his ability to recall the necessary information to ride.

“Although [Sharon] will probably tell you I have selective memory, when it comes to races – maybe because it’s something I have so much passion about – I have always been able to remember,” said Dominguez, who suffered a skull fracture in 1998. “Especially if I have ridden the horse, even if it was a year before, I can look at the past performances and remember that race to a T.

“There’s so much [about] race riding that’s second nature, so to speak, so I’m not really concerned about the development of the race or even memorizing or trying to capture new information when it comes to a new setup, a new race,” Dominguez added. “I feel like when the time comes, I’ll be there.”

From a fitness standpoint, Dominguez does not appear to have lost much.

“It’s not like I have been in bed for two weeks without doing anything,” he said. “Fitness is not really my main concern. It’s being healthy enough for the doctors; whether the doctors feel like, God forbid, if I do fall on my head again that I don’t do further damage to this injury. That’s my main concern.”

Both Ramon and Sharon Dominguez said they have been touched by the outpouring of support by not only people they know, but people they don’t.

“There have been quite a few racing fans and people I have never met making donations to the [Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund] in my name,” Dominguez said. “That’s something that really means a lot to me.”