British Columbia

Sarah Burke's medical bills covered by donations

Thanks to an outpouring of donations, freestyle skier Sarah Burke's medical bills will not create a financial burden for her family, her agent has confirmed.

Canadian freestyle skier's accident was not covered by ski association's insurance

Donations from the public mean freestyle skier Sarah Burke's medical bills will not create a financial burden for her family, her agent has confirmed.

Burke died Thursday morning in a Salt Lake City hospital, more than a week after tearing the artery that supplies blood to the brainstem during a fall while training in the superpipe at the Park City Mountain Resort in Utah.

Burke's agent Michael Spencer had launched a $550,000 US fundraising effort to help cover the freestyle skier's outstanding medical costs and other related expenses, following her death in Utah on Thursday, raising speculation the family was facing a massive bill for her hospitalization because the skier was not adequately insured.

On Friday afternoon, Spencer released a statement saying the family has not yet received a final bill from the University of Utah Hospital where she was treated, but it is expected to be approximately $200,000.

"Because of the donations in the last day, it is now clear that Sarah's family will not have any financial burden related to her care," said the statement, which was issued through the Canada Freestyle Ski Association.

"Once charges are finalized, the University will work with Health Canada to determine what type of coverage may be available and what their contribution will be, as Sarah is a Canadian citizen," said the statement.

While it remains unclear if Burke was properly insured, the website started by Spencer had raised more than $194,000 by Friday afternoon. The fundraiser's beneficiary is listed as Burke's husband, Rory Bushfield. 

"Further contributions will be used to establish a foundation to honour Sarah's legacy and promote the ideals she valued and embodied," said the statement.

Spencer said Burke's family was extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from the public, her sponsors, and the hospital.

Unsanctioned event

Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Skiing Association, says its athletes have excellent insurance when they are competing for the association, but said Burke was not covered by the program because her accident happened during an unsanctioned event.

"She was in the U.S. taking part in a third-party training opportunity, something that was separate to our program," said Judge.

"The Canadian Snow Sports Association has a very comprehensive policy which covers these kinds of situations, but unfortunately in this instance she was involved in a third party event which was not part of the program and as such was not under the umbrella of coverage," said Judge.

Burke was in Park City training for a superpipe event hosted by Monster Energy, one of her main sponsors, at the time of the accident.

A spokesperson at the Monster Energy Company would not say if Burke was insured.

'She lived a perfect life'

Burke, who was born in Barrie, Ont., and lived in Squamish, B.C., just south of Whistler, was considered both a star and a pioneer in her sport.

She won multiple gold medals in the Winter X Games and played a leading role in getting it added to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Socchi, where she was favoured to win gold.

She also won the 2005 world championships, was the first woman to land a 1080-degree spin (three full rotations) in competition and won the 2007 ESPY award as Best Female Action Sports Athlete.

Mogul skier John Smart says Burke's death was an incredible loss.

"She was a leader in this sport, 16 I think was when she was throwing down tricks that nobody believed a girl could or anyone could do. I wasn't even doing them.

"She led a very, very exciting life and she lived a perfect life. She really did. She did everything well," Smart says.