H0LLYWOOD, FL – Eibar Coa provided a sight Thursday afternoon that few could have dreamed possible after the Gulfstream Park jockey fractured his C-4 vertebra in a racing spill on Feb. 18: he walked into a press conference celebrating his release from Memorial Regional Hospital South.
“In all my years of neurosurgery never have I seen a case, an event, this impressive and this miraculous. To have a man who’s completely paralyzed from the neck down – a complete quadriplegic – and then be able to get up and walk is an extremely rare event,” said Dr. Scott Berta, the Memorial neurosurgeon who performed two surgeries to stabilize and repair Coa’s injury. “And do to it so quickly on top of it is pretty much unheard of.”
Coa, whose stride was remarkably fluid as he walked to the podium, impressed his doctors with his positive attitude, but he admitted there were times when he had doubts that he would be able to walk out of the hospital.
“I’m super happy. When I came to this hospital, for sure I had the hope to walk out, but I wasn’t sure I was going to. I knew I was going to work hard to do it,” said Coa, who wife Rebeca waited nearby to take her husband home less than two months after his horrific accident. “Just walking out and seeing all my family and support from the doctors makes me happy. I’m a happy guy today, for sure.”
The 40-year-old native of Monagas, Venezuela instilled confidence in his doctors that his case might be special.
“I think the credit for his miracle that occurred goes to the man himself,” said Dr. Berta, noting that the speedy action taken at Memorial Hospital following the accident was pivotal in his recovery. “When I first met him, I just felt something special about him. His attitude was so positive that he was going to work through it, I could tell (that he would make an amazing recovery).”
Dr. Allan Novick was also impressed with Coa’s attitude and work ethic during his on-going rehabilitation.
“He had a positive attitude. We just gave him the tools that it takes to work through this and continue to develop the strength sufficiently, first to move in bed, then to stand and progress ultimately to walking and caring for himself,” said Dr. Novick, director of Rehabilitation Services, Memorial Healthcare System. “With the combination of having the right attitude and the right tools, he was able to overcome.”
Coa, who has ridden 4080 winners, said he and his doctors couldn’t have achieved the miraculous recovery without the support of his family and people in the racing industry.
“A lot of people involved in racing from every state, jockeys, trainers, owners and fans. Every single part of racing was supporting me and praying for me, and I believe that was one of the reasons why I here today.’ “All the prayers from all those people and all their support pushed me to work harder and be here today.”
Coa will continue out-patient rehabilitation with the ultimate goal of riding again.
“That door is not closed, but I’m going to work hard to get full recovery first,” Coa said. “That door is still open, but I couldn’t know the answer today. But it’s one of my goals, for sure.”
If Coa never rides again, he will always be an inspiration to his doctors, as well as other people with spinal chord injuries.
“Eibar had a C-4 fracture dislocation that was extremely severe. It was a severe spinal chord injury. We actually term it a complete spinal chord injury. He was a complete quadriplegic,” Dr. Berta said. “His MRI indicated that it was severely traumatized and that he may never walk again. That’s typically what we see in these situations where people have such a high-energy trauma and they result in a fracture dislocation. The imaging portends a very poor prognosis. And typically when people can’t move anything at all and they’re a complete quadriplegic, they barely regain any function at all.”
Having made such a miraculous recovery, Coa walked out of Memorial Hospital a new man.
“I appreciate life more than ever. I really believe that I was born again after February 18,” he sid. “So now I have two birthdays.”