Kalispell, Mont. March 25, 2001 (USSA)--Former Olympic gold medalist Bill Johnson remained in a coma and in critical condition Sunday butdoctors were "extremely pleased" with signs of his recovery from a near-death racing crash and four hours of brain surgery.
"He's doing a whole lot better. We're extremely pleased," said Dr. Keith Lara, director of Kalispell Regional Medical Center'semergency medical care. "He's becoming agitated, which is good."
The 1984 Olympic downhill champion faced "two highly potential mortal injuries," Lara said, when he crashed in a FIS-leveldownhill race Thursday on the eve of the Chevy Truck U.S. Alpine Championships at Big Mountain resort, about 15 miles away.Johnson, who was attempting a comeback at 40 years old so he could make the 2002 Olympic Team, suffered severe head traumacrashing into the snow and was in danger of choking because he bit through his tongue, clogging his windpipe and flooding a lungwith blood.
Treated almost immediately by Ski Patrol personnel and then helicoptered off the mountain, Johnson was unconscious when hearrived at the hospital. He underwent four hours of surgery to relieve pressure on his brain and to repair his tongue; he also sufferedmultiple injuries to his arms and legs.
Medication was being reduced, Lara said, and Johnson, who is being fed intravenously, was responding in positive ways that havemedical staff at the hospital marveling at his rate of recovery, the doctor said, pointing to movement on the left side of his bodyand reactions from the pupils of his eyes.
"He's begun to grimace to pain and make purposeful movement on his left side. He's pulling at things on his left side, tugging hiscovers, at IVs and at tubes," Lara said.
"He's slowly improving," the doctor said, calling Johnson "a pretty good fighter."
Meanwhile, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association VP-Public Relations Tom Kelly said "hundreds" of well-wishing e-mails have comein to the USSA website (www.usskiteam.com) from around the globe. "It's been a very emotional outpouring demonstrating howpopular Bill has remained almost 20 years after his heroics in Sarajevo."