09/20/2010 11:25AM

MRI critical to paralyzed rider's treatment

Benoit & Associates
Jockey Michael Martinez (left), with cousin Alex Solis.

The paralyzed jockey Michael Martinez was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday to help determine whether he is a candidate for experimental embryonic stem-cell treatments.

Martinez suffered a severed spinal cord in a Sept. 12 racing accident at Golden Gate Fields. He needs the MRI to determine if there is enough white matter – a component of the central nervous system that carries messages to and from the brain – for the stem cells to have a chance to work in the experimental treatments, according to Golden Gate Fields track physician Dr. David Seftel.

Martinez has undergone one MRI at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., where he remains in intensive care. A higher resolution MRI is needed for neurological specialists at Northwestern University in Chicago, where the stem-cell treatment would be performed, to make the determination. A higher resolution MRI machine is located at University of California San Francisco.

“They need a neurologically definitive MRI soon so that doctors [in Chicago] can made a decision,” said Seftel.

The stem-cell treatment must begin within 14 days of the injury to have any chance of succeeding, according to Seftel.

“Urgency is the critical thing,” said Seftel.

If the MRI shows Martinez is not a candidate for stem-cell treatment, he would ultimately begin rehabilitation at a center in Santa Clara that previous cared for injured riders Jose Arriaga and Sonny Ho, Seftel said.

After initially refusing to release Martinez’s records so that Northwestern University’s physicians could review them, Highland Hospital agreed late Friday to release them. Highland had cited laws that prohibit the release of the records to anyone but Martinez, who has been rendered incapable of responding to specific requests because of the nature of his injuries.

A hearing was to be conducted Monday in an Alameda County court as Martinez’s parents, who have come to the United States from Panama, seek to become their son’s temporary conservators for health-related issues. If they are named conservators, Martinez’s parents could approve the experimental stem-cell treatments for their son.

Martinez has shown continued progress from his injuries, Seftel said. He is able to eat soft foods and drink. All IVs except one have been removed.

“He’s looking better and shows continual neurological improvement,” said Seftel.

Seftel said the improvement in his condition would allow Martinez to be flown to Chicago on a private jet with a doctor and nurse in attendance, but that he would not need a specially equipped Medi-Vac flight.

Seftel said that he, Martinez’s agent, Dennis Patterson, Martinez’s cousin, the jockey Alex Solis, and Martinez’s family would be working on arranging a flight for the injured rider.