Often injured jockey Randy Romero received word from his doctors at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans on Wednesday that he is officially a candidate for a liver and kidney transplant. Romero, who spent three days at the hospital last week undergoing tests, said the transplant will require an 11-hour surgery and will now include removing a small cancerous growth on his small intestines.
“I thanked God when I hung up from the call,” the Hall of Fame rider said from his family home in Erath, La., where he now lives with his mother, Joyce. “Talk about good news. That was probably the best news I ever got.”
A successful operation will pave the way for the new medication, Harvoni, to treat Hepatitis C. He contracted the liver disease from blood transfusions given in 1983 following an accident in the Oaklawn Park reducing facilities that burned over 40% of his body and left him clinging to life. Romero retired in 1999 following a 23-year career with 4,294 victories on mounts that earned over $75 million. Romero was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 2010.
Romero, 57, became part of horse racing history when his mount Personal Ensign lodged a seemingly impossible stretch drive to beat the Kentucky Derby winning filly, Winning Colors, in the final stride of the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, keeping her record perfect with her 13th victory in as many starts.
Two years later in the same race, his mount, Go for Wand, the 2-year-old champion of 1989, appeared to have withstood a rally by her older rival Bayakoa with scant yards left only to break a left front ankle and fall, ending her life. She is buried in the Saratoga Racetrack infield. Romero later discovered he had broken eight ribs and fractured a shoulder in that spill.
Indeed, injuries were also a hallmark of his career. He has broken nearly two dozen bones and estimates undergoing over 36 surgeries, including one in 1976 to remove his injured spleen and another in 2008 to remove a kidney. For the past 15 years he has undergone the very tiring procedure dialysis three times weekly, something he did even while working as a jockeys agent following his retirement from riding.
Romero said because his lone kidney could fail or his badly damaged liver totally cease to function at any time, doctors have placed him at the top of the donor list. “For me it’s like I’m back riding, only now it’s a race against time,” he said. “But I know God is with me and I want to thank the ones who have called and prayed for me and the hundreds that have done the same on Facebook. I’ve gotten at least 300 cards. I can’t put in words how much that means.”
As is his nature, Romero is not taking the news lying down. He started taking walks and the past few days has been swimming from 30 to 45 minutes on the days he doesn’t undergo dialysis. Meanwhile, without wishing anyone harm, he and many in the racing community are continuing to hope and pray a matching liver and kidney will become available. At any time day or night, doctors will call and Joyce will drive Romero the three hours to New Orleans for yet another surgery. One that, like several previous operations, will save his life.
Eddie Donnally is a former jockey who won an Eclipse Award in 1984 for a Dallas Morning News feature on Romero. He is now a hospice and hospice chaplain. His bio, “Ride the White Horse,” has sold over 3,000 copies. He is also one of five former jockeys who founded Jockeys and Jeans, an annual fundraiser for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, whose second annual event, this one at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino in May, raised over $200,000.