Road To The Olympic Games


Canadian Sarah Burke still in coma after ski accident

Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke remains in an induced coma in a Salt Lake City hospital after suffering a serious injury while training on a superpipe.

Freestyle skier Sarah Burke remains in an induced coma Wednesday in a Salt Lake City hospital after suffering a serious injury while training on a superpipe.

The Canadian athlete is listed in critical condition in the hospital’s neuro critical care unit.  

"Sarah sustained serious injuries and remains intubated and sedated in critical condition," said Safdar Ansari, a neurointensivist with University of Utah Health Care.

Oxygen is being administered through a tube that doctors have inserted into her trachea (windpipe).

Chris Nelson, assistant vice-president for public affairs at the hospital, said Burke was having surgery Wednesday afternoon

While Canadian Freestyle Ski Association doctor Robert Foxford isn’t privy to the scans and other X-rays performed on Burke, he explains it's normal protocol for people with a significant brain injury to be placed in induced comas, which puts the "brain to rest" and "allows the swelling to go down."

Risk part of the sport

On the day her sport finally gained Olympic status last year, Canadian freestyle skier and halfpipe pioneer Sarah Burke also discussed the dangers accompanied with the discipline.

Burke, who is in a coma after suffering an injury while training on a superpipe Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Utah, spoke with CBC reporter Teddy Katz during a wide-ranging interview on April 5, 2011, including the risks freestyle skiers take, and the gratification from the news that skiing halfpipe would be part of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"Everything that you see has been well calculated, but it’s always risky and it’s a tough sport on the body," admitted Burke.

"You’re going to take a lot of crashes learning and perfecting things. That’s something that you kind of know as you go into it."

A four-time superpipe Winter X Games champion and 2005 halfpipe world gold medallist, Burke played a major role in getting halfpipe added to the 2014 Winter Games.

Born in Midland, Ont., Burke, who now resides in Whistler, B.C., has been considered one of the gold-medal favourites for Sochi.

After years of frustrations, she was elated when she received the news her sport would be part of the Olympic program.

"We’ve been fighting for years [and] it’s not been an easy road," said Burke. "It feels way better than I thought to hear the final vote. As much as we could’ve prepared for it, it’s all very thrilling.

"I woke up checking my phone a lot and keeping my fingers crossed. I knew it was looking good but you feel a little nervous. But finally when we heard that it was in, [I] was jumping for joy."

— Tony Care, CBC Sports

"No concerns for induced coma, [there’s] more concern for how a patient does after," Foxford said during a conference call. "Any time there's a significant brain injury, it's standard to induce [a] coma. Every second is monitored with precision. The trauma team will decide when she comes up, but I don't have any specific information."

Burke's husband Rory Bushfield and her family have arrived and are by her bedside. Bushfield has expressed gratitude for all the well wishes and prayers that have poured in since Burke was airlifted from Park City, Utah, to Salt Lake City after crashing at the end of a training run Tuesday in advance of the Winter X Games.

"Sarah is a very strong young woman and she will most certainly fight to recover," Bushfield said.

Canadian Freestyle CEO Peter Judge maintains injuries like the one Burke sustained are rare in freestyle skiing.

"I think the sport in general is just extremely safe," said Judge. "Obviously there are [risks] in any sport. In any type of sport or activity, certainly these athletes undertake the kinds of measures to ensure safety. There are inherent risks in everything, in every sport. This sport has one of the best safety records [of] any sport.

"There are always injuries at some level, but it's rare that injuries of a large nature [paralysis or life-debilitating injury] as this happen."

Burke is a halfpipe pioneer who lobbied tirelessly to get her sport included in the Winter Olympics. Halfpipe skiing will debut at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

"This is an extremely unfortunate situation and we are awaiting further word on Sarah’s condition," said Judge.

"Sarah is the top female halfpipe athlete in the world. She was instrumental in launching the sport and has continued to be a leader moving towards the sport’s Olympic debut in 2014. She is an incredibly resilient and strong young woman, and we are hoping she will draw on that strength at this time. Our thoughts are with her and her family at this time."

Burke, a native of Barrie, Ont., who grew up in nearby Midland before moving to Squamish, B.C., was training with a private group at the time of the accident.   

"We know that she had landed a trick in the pipe and had landed at the bottom of the pipe and kind of hit on her feet, so she landed, and then bounced onto her feet, head kind of thing," Judge said. "Apparently, from what we heard, it didn't look like it was that kind of severe a fall, but obviously she must have just hit in the right way. "It was my understanding that it wasn't something that was out of the norm."

Park City Mountain Resort spokesman Andy Miller said the accident happened in the early afternoon on the same halfpipe where snowboarder Kevin Pearce was critically injured during training on Dec. 31, 2009. Pearce suffered traumatic brain injuries but has since recovered and returned to riding on snow last month.   

Well-wishers flooded Burke's Facebook page or posted on Twitter, wishing her a speedy recovery.   

"@sarah--j--burke - I love you, I'm thinking about, I'm even praying for you," Montreal freestyle skier Maude Raymond posted on her Twitter account.   

Canadian snowboarder Spencer O'Brien posted: "Hoping and praying the best for @sarah--j--burke."   

"@sarah--j--burke You are strong, please pull through! We all love you and are thinking of you!" posted American superpipe skier Angeli VanLaanen.

With files from The Canadian Press

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