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After Speculation, Doctor Confirms RI Firefighter Is Permanently Disabled

Providence Journal via YellowBrix

July 28, 2011

PROVIDENCE — Former firefighter John Sauro remains permanently and totally disabled from doing his job in the Fire Department, an orthopedic surgeon has concluded after a special examination.

But the surgeon recommended additional tests to confirm his finding.

The report by Dr. Anthony DeLuise Jr. was submitted Wednesday to the city Retirement Board, which voted to have the additional tests done.

Sauro was the subject of a WPRI-TV Channel 12 news exposé, in which an undercover video of Sauro’s vigorous physical workouts at a fitness center called into question whether he remains genuinely disabled from his job.

The video prompted Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré to order a criminal investigation of possible fraud related to the legitimacy of Sauro’s accidental-disability pension from the city. Mayor Angel Taveras said the video evidence was “outrageous” and his administration had the surgeon, who specializes in shoulder ailments, double-check Sauro at city expense.

Sauro, 48, of Cranston, suffered what his lawyer said was a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder while carrying or helping to carry someone down three flights of stairs. The lawyer, Samuel Lovett, said that was the injury that justifies his disability pension and that the injury still pains Sauro.

The video, which was provided to the city-appointed surgeon, showed Sauro using his arms and shoulders to lift and press against substantial weights during his workout regimen. Lovett said Sauro stopped his workouts after the news report because of the resultant notoriety.

Lovett proclaimed his client “vindicated” although, he acknowledged, the requirement of more tests means “it is not an official, final decision.”

After hastily reading the report, the lawyer said it appears that the surgeon concluded that because Sauro still suffers pain and a lack of mobility in his shoulder, “it would make it very difficult for him in an emergency situation” to render aid to another person. “Under controlled circumstances” such as weight-lifting, Sauro can perform some functions, but he would not be reliable in an uncontrolled circumstance, Lovett said.

However, the doctor reported, Sauro was not disabled for all work and could pursue a sedentary job.

DeLuise apparently based his conclusion on an examination of Sauro, a viewing of the video and an analysis of the medical records that were compiled before Sauro was pensioned off, according to Lovett.

The former firefighter and emergency medical technician collects a monthly pension of $3,789, free of federal and state income tax, and his medical benefits cost the city $1,757 monthly, according to the Taveras administration. The pension was awarded Oct. 25, 2000.

The additional tests include a fresh MRI — DeLuise relied on an MRI taken at the time the pension was awarded — a “functional-capacity examination” and a third, undisclosed, test. A functional-capacity examination is done by a physical therapist and gauges a person’s ability to perform physical tasks, such as lifting.

The board voted after a half-hour closed-door meeting to discuss the report and Sauro’s condition. Because medical information generally is confidential, members would say little or nothing about the case. The report was withheld, so the detailed basis for the conclusion remains secret.

In response to news reporters’ questions, Lovett acknowledged later that Sauro did not have an operation to repair the torn rotator cuff. His client was advised that the tear was so severe that an operation would not restore him to the point that he could resume his job, so Sauro opted against having it, Lovett said.

The lawyer said a new MRI might show that Sauro’s injury is worse than it was when he was given a pension.

If the surgeon had concluded differently, that the injury no longer caused Sauro to be permanently and totally disabled from his job, the city would have been entitled legally to order Sauro to report for retraining and reemployment.

Although Sauro was prepared for that possibility, his return to work would have been problematic, according to Lovett. Since he became disabled, Lovett said, Sauro suffered a torn meniscus — cartilage — in a knee that may require surgery.


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