Upbeat, but also cautious, on Corzine

Posted: April 17, 2007

Gov. Corzine's doctors yesterday said he was doing remarkably well given the extent of the injuries he suffered in a car wreck Thursday, but acknowledged he is "certainly not out of the woods yet."

Corzine remained on a ventilator in critical but stable condition at Cooper University Hospital in Camden following what medical staff there described as a routine - and successful - 40-minute procedure to clean dead tissue and debris from the wound surrounding his badly broken left femur.

The procedure, aimed at preventing infection, presented "no problems, no difficulties at all," said Corzine's surgeon, Robert Ostrum.

Ostrum added that the governor was able to move all his limbs, including the fractured left leg, "which to me is a good sign."

The governor yesterday also had a tube installed to drain fluid from the area around his right lung, said Steven V. Ross, the hospital's head of trauma and emergency medical services. Corzine underwent the same procedure - which is common in patients with chest trauma - on his left side on Sunday.

Doctors said there were no more surgeries planned for the governor.

They said that Corzine, who fractured 10 ribs, his breastbone, collarbone and a vertebra in addition to his left leg, showed no signs of major organ damage, complications or infections.

"He is amazingly coming through this with less trouble than we'd expect, but we'll continue to be vigilant," Ross said. "A patient is not out of the woods until they're out of the hospital. He's certainly not out of the woods yet."

Ross said there was no immediate plan to remove the governor's breathing tube, which he said would stay in for "as long as it takes." He said Corzine had the ability to breathe but needed the ventilator because he was so heavily sedated to relieve the pain from his injuries.

While the governor has been very lucky so far, doctors said he remained at risk of developing serious complication from his injuries, including pneumonia and blood clots, particularly in his injured leg.

Corzine also faces "a long haul ahead" when it comes to rehabilitating that leg, Ostrum said, but "I expect him to be walking well in three to six months."

The surgeon dismissed the minor break in a lower back vertebra as the least of the governor's worries and injuries, calling it "a nothing fracture."

The governor showed no evidence of brain damage, Ross said, adding that nurses were conducting neurological assessments on an hourly basis. He added the governor was still unable to eat, and was being fed through a tube, but was responsive to medical staff and family, and was able to answer yes or no questions.

Asked when Corzine might be able to take over the reins of state government from Senate President Richard J. Codey, who took over as acting governor Thursday night, Ross said he wasn't sure.

Ross also said it was hard to know whether Corzine, whom he said recalled parts of the accident when he was first transported to the hospital, would remember anything about it later.

State police accident investigators yesterday were still working on piecing together exactly what happened and who - if anyone - was to blame for the accident, during which the governor apparently was not wearing his seat belt.

No charges have been filed in connection with the crash, which occurred about 6 p.m. Thursday on the Garden State Parkway in Galloway Township as Corzine's two-SUV motorcade was making its way from Atlantic City to Princeton.

In a preliminary report issued over the weekend, state police said the motorcade had its emergency lights flashing, which prompted the driver of a red pickup truck ahead to pull onto the shoulder to get out of the way.

The pickup's driver then accidentally steered partway back onto the roadway, and into the path of a white pickup. The white pickup swerved left into the governor's SUV, which crashed into the guardrail, state police said.

State police yesterday again deflected questions about whether the trooper driving Corzine was speeding at the time of the accident. Capt. Al Della Fave, state police spokesman, said that the accident investigation was not complete and that "we are not prepared to speak to speed at this time."

Contact staff writer Jennifer Moroz at 609-989-8990 or jmoroz@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Marie McCullough contributed to this article.

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