New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine faces months of intensive therapy to recover from serious injuries suffered in an April 12 crash on the Garden State Parkway.
"It is a grueling course that he's going to go through," said Kathleen O'Donnell, an inpatient rehabilitation manager at Atlantic Health, which operates several northern New Jersey health facilities. "My heart goes out to him."
Corzine has been in intensive care since breaking 11 ribs, his sternum, a leg, his collarbone and a vertebra in the crash.
Dr. Steven Ross at Cooper University Hospital said Saturday the governor has started talking with family members and doctors and is drinking some clear liquids.
Corzine showed signs of bronchitis and was being treated with antibiotics, Ross said. Doctors removed a breathing tube on Friday.
Physical therapists said Corzine may face his toughest tests after he leaves the hospital.
The 60-year-old man faces excruciating daily exercises designed to rebuild his strength, but they'll also make it difficult for him to initially devote much time to being governor. "He's got to really work on getting himself stable and up to par," O'Donnell said. Elton Strauss, senior faculty member at Mount Sinai Medical School, said patients who suffered injuries as severe as Corzine's often need to first receive psychological support. "Most of these patients undergo stress, anxiety, sometimes anger towards what took place," Strauss said. O'Donnell said Corzine will likely be sent to a rehabilitation center where he will have access to a psychologist and anti-anxiety medication. His physical therapy, however, will likely start out being basic. "Helping him to learn to bathe and dress again independently, getting in and out of the shower, donning and doffing clothes and shoes - things that we take for granted but are extremely difficult when you have these types of injuries," O'Donnell said. With his chest and shoulder injuries making it difficult to use crutches, therapists said Corzine will likely use a walker and wheelchair at first. Vincent Perez, a director at Columbia University Medical Center Eastside in New York, said Corzine's early therapy will be comparable to "learning to walk again." "If he is immobilized for a prolonged period, recovering the motion in his knee will be time-consuming and somewhat painful," Perez said. "He will probably utilize a stationary bicycle, weight lifting, weight bearing exercises, gait training under the watchful eye of a skilled physical therapist." Tom Kiger, clinical director for Dynamic Physical Therapy & Aquatic Rehabilitation, a rehabilitation facility with 12 locations in Delaware and Pennsylvania, said Corzine will also need work on injuries associated with the broken collarbone. "They're going to have to get in there and start to do passive motions with him," Kiger said. "Your muscles will atrophy very dramatically being laid up in the hospital, so he's going to lose a lot of muscle bulk in general." Corzine will spend up to four hours per day in therapy, therapists said. "He's deconditioning right now," said Kevin Gard, an associate physical therapy and rehabilitation director at Drexel University. "Physically, his cardiovascular endurance is decreasing and that sort of thing, so it's going to take a period of time to build that back up again for him to be able to tolerate a couple of hours of therapy every day." Kiger said complete rehabilitation could take until spring 2009. "I'm not saying he's not going to be able to work in the capacity of the governor or anything like that, but for him to be up and running and jogging and things like that he could basically be probably be looking up to a year," he said. Also Saturday, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that state police were investigating whether the trooper who was driving Corzine was communicating with his girlfriend's estranged husband at the time of the crash. Davy Jones, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association, told the newspaper that investigators want to know if trooper Robert Rasinski was communicating with the man, either by phone or mobile e-mail, while he was driving Corzine or immediately before. State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes confirmed in a statement to The Star-Ledger that the department was "in receipt of an allegation made against Trooper Robert Rasinski and will look further into the matter." Telephone messages left for Jones and Rasinski by The Associated Press were not immediately returned Saturday. Lt. Gerald Lewis, a state police spokesman, declined comment.