Court helps paralyzed rider rebuild life

John Steadman

February 05, 1993|By John Steadman

Exercising horses at $7 per head brought a risk factor Brenda Bower found out about when a mare she was riding bolted into a wall on the indoor track at Sagamore Farm and left her a paraplegic. It was a life-threatening and debilitating injury. A young woman, with dreams and plans for an ambitious future, had a broken body that needed to be put back together.

Hospital bills skyrocketed as she spent time in the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, three months at the Craig Hospital in Denver and continuing visits to the Montebello Rehabilitation Center. She now rides a wheelchair or a specially equipped golf cart that her fiance, Michael Herzog, modified for comfort and which carries her around the farm she leases near Shawan.

The courage of Brenda is almost beyond comprehension. When she took that painful jolt on Jan. 8, 1991, and fell to the dirt underfoot, it would change how she approached every minute of the rest of her life. The trainer she was riding for that fateful morning, Battista Pizzuro, was expected, by Maryland law, to have insurance coverage as protection for just such a circumstance.

But that wasn't the case. So there was a question, as Brenda fought to make it back, about where the money would come from to care for the medical treatment and to assure payment of the ongoing expenses the future would demand. Brenda's mother says, "Thank God for Blue Cross."

But there was more to it that that. There was a question as to whether she was entitled to assistance from the Worker's Compensation Commission. A hearing before Judge Barbara Howe in the Circuit Court of Baltimore County was decided in her favor. Pizzuro chose not to attend the trial.

The attorney general and his staff, led by Bruce Spizler, conducted the early phase of the investigation. It was Spizler who removed the trainer's license and believed, as did her attorney, Michael Berey, that there would be financial help available, even if it was probably going to require a long and intensive trial.

"Efforts were made to bring about a postponement," said Berey. "This would only have delayed the situation for Brenda and it wouldn't have been fair. When Pizzuro failed to appear, it relieved us of having to introduce a long line of witnesses and the presentation of enormous testimony. Believe me, we were totally prepared."

The happy part of the story is that Brenda is emotionally and mentally relieved to have the verdict returned in her favor.

"She'll receive back wages, medical care and has the potential for vocational rehabilitation," commented Berey. "A cash award has not been evaluated as yet. But lifetime medical benefits seem assured. The young lady is going to get all she's entitled to and this, of course, is as it should be. She's a special kind of person."

She suffered injuries while on the job -- a mare bolting into the wall of the indoor track after running 4 1/2 laps with only a half-lap remaining. Her collarbone was broken, there were three fractured ribs, a punctured lung, broken back and a severely damaged spinal cord. When she was able to write a note at Maryland Shock Trauma, the first thing she asked was, "How's the horse?"

Actually, the only damage the mare received in hitting the wall was a broken nose.

After the lengthy medical care in Baltimore and Denver, Brenda returned to the 15-acre farm she leases. It was her hope the trainer might call to inquire about her condition, but that never happened. In the spirit of love thy neighbor, she expresses no animosity.

"I love the horse business even though I'm not making any money, which my father would be able to tell you since he's working on my income tax right now," said Brenda, age 31 and a graduate of Towson High and the Morven Park Equine Institute in Leesburg, Va. "Maybe someday, if all goes well, I'll be able to buy my own place. I love this farm. We stable 10 horses at present. One is in foal and we have a 2-year-old that hasn't been broken.

"Through the entire proceedings, ever since I was injured, my parents, Bob and Virginia Bower, and my fiance, Michael, have been supportive of me in every way."

As for Berey, he feels good about the outcome. To see a woman so severely injured on a race horse pained him, too, but in a different way. His interest in Brenda Bower and seeing the case to a conclusion provided a feeling of profound satisfaction. He helped right a wrong.

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