Singer Gloria Estefan Flown To New York For Spinal Surgery

Posted: March 22, 1990

SCRANTON — Pop-singer Gloria Estefan, who broke and partly dislocated a bone in her back Tuesday in a wreck on a snowy highway in the Poconos, was transferred to New York aboard a helicopter yesterday afternoon for spinal surgery. Paralysis remains a slim possibility, doctors said, and Estefan will most likely be off the stage for three to six months.

Estefan, the lead singer of the Latin-pop band Miami Sound Machine and known for her energetic dancing onstage, has a "partial neurologic deficit" that is causing numbness in her feet, Harry Schmaltz said during a news conference yesterday at Scranton's Community Medical Center. Schmaltz, an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital, said that Estefan needed surgery to stabilize the spine and prevent further injury but that the family wanted a specialist to perform the operation.

"She's not going to do much in the way of entertaining for three to six months," Schmaltz said. ". . . It's a very serious injury and it's going to keep her out of commission for quite a while."

Estefan's injury is to her first lumbar vertebra, near the center of her back. It is broken, and the bone is out of alignment. This has put pressure on her spinal cord, causing some numbness in the tops of her feet and weakness in her ankles.

During the recuperative period, Estefan will wear a constraining device to prevent further injury, he said.

"At this point we look forward to her getting everything back and doing everything well," said trauma surgeon William Pfeifer.

A team of doctors, in consultation with the family, agreed that the singer should be transferred to Beth Israel Medical Center in New York for the surgery, which will take place either today or tomorrow.

"They felt the risk-benefit was in favor of moving her," Pfeifer said.

The Scranton hospital was inundated with flowers and cards from well- wishers yesterday. Fans swamped the hospital switchboard with get-well calls.

Meanwhile, family members and friends gathered in a waiting room, some of them sobbing and embracing. Estefan took calls yesterday from President Bush and Dick Clark, among others.

She had been on her way from Washington to a scheduled, sold-out concert in Syracuse, N.Y., when the accident happened just after noon Tuesday. Estefan, a longtime Bush supporter who performed at one of his inaugural functions, had met with him Monday to discuss her anti-drug work.

Hospital officials said the 32-year-old singer was alert and expressing frustration over missing concerts. She was also concerned about her son, Nayib, 9, who was in the bus with her. He was treated and released with a broken collar bone. Estefan's husband, Emilio Estefan Jr., was treated and released with cuts and bruises.

Also treated and released were the bus driver and the boy's nanny. But Estefan's personal assistant, Barbara Arencibia, 25, was still being treated for a back injury.

An overturned tractor-trailer forced the bus to stop on a slick mountain stretch on westbound Interstate 380 near Tobyhanna, Pa., southeast of Scranton. A truck then plowed into the back of the bus and pushed it into a another truck, tossing a sleeping Estefan from a couch and wrenching her back.

As she waited for an ambulance, Estefan complained of pain but said little else, according to the driver of the jackknifed truck, Robert Tamez. "She was trying to move a little bit," he said. "I just kept telling her, 'Don't move. Don't move. Help is on the way.' She seemed to be hurting."

The driver of the truck that hit Estefan's bus, identified as Heraldo E. Samuels of Scarborough, Ontario, was cited for driving at an unsafe speed. He was treated and released.

Estefan, born in Cuba, and the Miami Sound Machine have attracted listeners worldwide with the sounds of salsa, samba and conga for more than a decade. Their hits include "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," "Anything for You" and ''Conga."

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