06/04/2008 12:00AM

Ferri's reconstructed face called 'miraculous'


Trainer Elaine Ferri found herself in a helpless situation a year ago, when her face was shattered after being kicked by a horse, and she had no resources to pay for the surgery. Now, after completion of an all-expenses-paid reconstructive procedure last month, she is talking about rebuilding the stable she had to give up after the accident, which occurred on her parents' farm in Texarkana, Ark., last July.

It has been a "truly amazing" journey, said Ferri, 51. She underwent extensive reconstructive surgery at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, N.J., on May 21. In a six-hour operation, surgeons Stephen A. Chidyllo and Barry Edison worked to rebuild areas of her skull, her nose to improve breathing, and her left eye socket; she lost that eye in the accident.

A prosthetic cheekbone was implanted, and work was done on her right eye to make it match her prosthetic left one and restore symmetry to her face, according to Dr. Angelo A. Chinnici, an attending physician at Jersey Shore and the director of medical services for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands. Chinnici coordinated the procedure for Ferri.

"The result is actually miraculous," he said. "She doesn't have a caved-in face anymore, and she's not dependent on her Hollywood eyewear that she used to use to cover her face. I don't know that we're going to need any further surgery, because it looks so good."

"It's just like night and day," said Ferri. "Basically, I really got my face back. I can't believe I'm back to a more normal appearance, and I believe as the weeks go on it will only get better."

Ferri had three stabilizing surgeries in Arkansas immediately after the accident, which occurred when she was trying to teach a 3-year-old filly she owned to accept a halter. The horse slipped away from her and kicked out as she ran off, catching Ferri and leaving her with about 100 facial fractures.

Ferri had no health insurance and no funds to proceed with further surgeries needed to address a deviated septum impacting her breathing as well as an eye socket that needed to be built out. Chinnici heard about her dilemma, and went to work coordinating the surgery.

"I've known Elaine for 20 years," he said. "I had horses with her, and she trained a horse that they said would never get back to the racetrack and he wound up winning a race."

Chinnici was as persistent with raising funds for Ferri as she was with getting his lost-cause horse to the winner's circle. He "passed the hat" for donations on Kentucky Derby Day at Monmouth, and said he also received "a large donation from the Jockey Club [Foundation] through the efforts of Jim Gagliano, Nancy Kelly, and Rosemary Prufeta." The funds provided for four prosthetic pieces for Ferri that were made at a discount by the prosthesis manufacturer Stryker.

Chinnici said others important in making the surgery happen include Chidyllo and Edison, who donated their services; John Lloyd, the CEO of Meridian Health Care Network; Steve Littleson, the president of Jersey Shore; and the hospital's staff. Chinnici said it is difficult to put an exact cost on the whole procedure.

"You can look at it two ways," he said. "Number one, it's an act of kindness by all of these people involved that you can never put a price on. And if you want to get realistic, it's probably in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was a tremendous cost, but we were able to get everything donated."

"I knew Angelo, when he told me don't worry we'll get things done, he meant it," said Ferri. "And I'm still shocked that it's all actually happened. I'm so thankful to God, and all the special people he has put in my life through all of this."

Ferri, who has been in racing 30 years, hopes to resume training in the next year. She visited Monmouth, where she had been based earlier in her career, over the weekend, and said she might set up shop again in New Jersey after spending the past several years racing in the Southwest.

"It's going to take a little time to heal," said Ferri. "I think in a couple of months I'll be doing really well. I'd sure like to get a stable built back up again. I have some owners that are telling me to get myself well and they'll be back, so that's a good thing."

Valenzuela's best finish: A second

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela's best finish from three comeback mounts Sunday at Louisiana Downs was a second place aboard 9-1 shot Winning Forum in the seventh race. He was off the board with his other mounts, which were his first since Dec. 26 at Santa Anita. Valenzuela had a conditional license in California revoked in late December because of a DUI charge. He is now based in Louisiana, where he rode in the $1 million Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs in early December.

Valenzuela tacked 124 pounds for his first mounts in five months, but said he expects to be lighter when he returns to action on Thursday. He is named on five horses, with one of his mounts, Mi Kellita, on the also-eligible list. Valenzuela is named to ride three horses at Louisiana Downs on Friday.

Mi Kellita could go favored for trainer Sam David if she draws into Thursday's featured ninth, a turf allowance. The race comes on the first Thursday card of the meet at Louisiana Downs.

Juveniles center stage at Lone Star

The focus this week at Lone Star Park is 2-year-olds, with two divisions of the $100,000 Texas Thoroughbred Association Sales Futurity set for Saturday.

As a warm-up, a solid field of 2-year-old maidens highlight the Thursday night card. The top contenders include first-time starter King Gulch, who is out of the multiple Grade 3-winning mare Parade Queen.

o Stolis Winner paid $51 when he upset the richest race ever run in Oklahoma, the $1.1 million Heritage Place Futurity for Quarter Horses at Remington on Sunday.