Toronto woman, 24, seriously injured in avalanche while skiing in France
Katie Combaluzier was with 3 people when the accident occurred on Sunday
A 24-year-old Toronto woman is recovering from serious injuries, including a fractured spine, after getting swept down a mountain by an avalanche while skiing in France on the weekend.
Katie Combaluzier, a first-year medical student studying in Dublin, Ireland, is an avid skier, according to her sister Megan Combaluzier, 21.
"She had avalanche training and she knows the risks," her sister told CBC Toronto on the phone from her home in Kingston, Ont. "You don't think it's going to happen to you, but it's always a fear in the back of your mind."
Around noon on Sunday, Combaluzier was in Grenoble skiing with three people she had just met that weekend. The weather conditions were poor, with limited visibility according to France 3, a public television channel.
In a post on social media Wednesday, Combaluzier wrote that "an avalanche broke beneath us" and carried her and a fellow skier down the mountain. "We both received severe impacts [on] the way down."
"She noticed the avalanche, screamed ... but couldn't do anything to stop it," her sister explained.
On the way down, Combaluzier hit a pole and fractured her spine.
Rescuers attempted to fly a helicopter up the mountain but "cloud cover came in so fast and so thick" that she was strapped to a toboggan instead and lowered by ropes through the tree line, her mother, Margaret Combaluzier. told CBC Toronto. Once she was closer to the bottom, a helicopter was able to land safely and take her to a hospital in Grenoble.
France 3 reported a 25-year-old German man died in the avalanche. Combaluzier's mother confirmed the man had been one of the three people skiing with her daughter.
'Her worst nightmare has come true'
"Right now, I know she's sitting in that hospital bed thinking that her worst nightmare has come true," Combaluzier's sister said. "We're hoping that she'll make a full recovery, but it's going to set her life back a little bit and I know she was definitely not expecting this."
Doctors had to insert a titanium plate in her back to fuse three of her spinal discs. Her sister said another operation is needed to repair the rest of the break.
Her mother, who is in Grenoble now, said Combaluzier has no sensation in her right leg below her knee, but she's starting to get feeling back in her left leg. She has been told to lie "extremely flat" for the next month and a half, followed by six months of intensive rehab.
"She's so strong willed," her mother said, adding Combaluzier is already planning her next ski trip to the Swiss Alps next January. "We tell her, 'You've got this. This is a blip. You're going to make it work.'"
Her family say they are anxious to get her home to Toronto as soon as she is fit to be transferred, which could be as early as Saturday. Insurance won't cover the flight home, so the family has set up a fundraiser.
"I really just want her to come home so I can see her and talk to her in person," her sister said, adding that she hopes the school gives her accommodations so she can complete her year, because "it's her dream to be a surgeon."
With files from Nick Boisvert