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Governor thankful horse-riding accident didn’t leave him paralyzed

CARSON CITY — Gov. Jim Gibbons feels fortunate that he wasn’t left a paraplegic from a Sept. 21 horse-riding accident.

"I have been blessed," the governor said from a Reno hospital, adding that he expects to be walking again in six to eight weeks.

"The fracture missed my spinal nerve by one-sixteenth of an inch. Every day I feel grateful," he said from the Renown Regional Medical Center’s rehabilitation facility.

Gibbons’ pelvis was broken in several places when he was thrown from a horse after he put one foot in a stirrup and began to put his other foot in the other stirrup.

Ten-inch and 8-inch bolts have been placed in his body temporarily, with several plates, to hold the pelvis together while it heals.

Despite the painful injury, Gibbons, 65, returned to public life Tuesday when he presided over two state meetings by telephone from the hospital.

"You can do a lot of disguising yourself," said Gibbons when other Board of Transportation members remarked that he sounded quite well.

Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki quipped that there would be "no discussions about horse trails" during the Transportation Board meeting.

Members later approved an almost $1 billion list of highway construction projects to begin in 2011.

Aside from brief small talk, Gibbons conducted the two meetings like any other meetings he has run during his nearly four-year term as governor.

Gibbons said it was not difficult to do. He does not take any pain medication until the afternoons. That allows him to have a clear head in the mornings when he meets with staff or handles state business.

He now can move himself around the hospital in a wheelchair.

Doctors have been discussing when he can be released, but no date for his return to the Governor’s Mansion has been set.

He undergoes both physical and occupational rehabilitation. He said he tries to push himself to do more than the doctors request.

"If they want me to do 10 exercises, I add five more just to try to make more meaningful gains," Gibbons said. "They are impressed. But I have to get past the motivation to do more than I should."

The governor said the pain he experienced when he was thrown from the horse was like having "railroad spikes" driven into his body. Doctors have told him a pelvic break is about the most painful injury a person can suffer.

He has a hard time finding a position to sit or lie in which he feels comfortable.

"I can’t sit down or up, lie right or left; every position is affected (by pain from the break). Quite honestly, it is a challenge," Gibbons said.

The governor said he has received many calls and messages from well-wishers of both political parties.

"The response has been amazing. People put aside politics. I am blessed to have friends of all kinds," he said.

An experienced rider, Gibbons believes he must have spooked the horse.

"You have to be very careful," he advised other riders. "Getting bucked off is something you can’t prepare for."

But he vows to get back in the saddle and ride the horse that threw him.

"I am not done with that horse yet," he said.

He also predicted that he will soon return not only to the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City but also to his Capitol office.

Gibbons lost the Republican primary in June to Brian Sandoval. His term ends Jan. 3, the first Monday in the new year.

Other than Gibbons’ participation, the most surprising thing about the Transportation Board meeting was that the five other board members also were absent from meeting room in the Nevada Department of Transportation headquarters.

All participated either by teleconference from Las Vegas, or from telephone hookups in Las Vegas, Carson City, Reno and Winnemucca.

Transportation Department staff members said it was the first meeting they could recall when none of the board members attended in person.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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