Skier Johnson Comes Out of Coma


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Portland, Ore. April 13, 2001 (AP by Landon Hall)–Olympic champion Bill Johnson has come out of a coma in his slow recovery from a devastating skiing crash three weeks ago in Montana.

“He is waking up,” Dr. Molly Hoeflich said Friday at Providence Medical Center, where the 1984 downhill gold medalist is a patient.

Even though Johnson was able to respond to some outside stimulus when he was brought to the hospital Wednesday, he was technically considered to be in a coma. But doctors at Providence say the 41-year-old skier is making slight movements on his own, and that the term coma no longer applies.

Johnson’s mother and stepfather said he looked tired and depressed following the 75-minute flight aboard a private jet from a Montana hospital. But a visit from Johnson’s skiing trainer, John Creel, and Creel’s wife on Friday morning seemed to lift his spirits.

“They were very upbeat and real positive, and he just responded really well,” said Johnson’s mother, DB Johnson. “He was nodding his head, looking at them.”

Creel jokingly reminded Johnson of their last conversation before the crash: Johnson was supposed to meet Creel back at the team truck after the training run.

Creel said to Johnson “where have you been? I’ve been waiting at the truck the last three weeks,” according to the stepfather, Jimmy Cooper. “And Billy kind of smiled.”

Doctors have determined that Johnson is strong enough to begin an intensive rehabilitation regimen. Since his transfer to Providence, hospital staff have gotten Johnson to sit up in a chair, and they hope to have him getting in and out of bed by himself.

Eventually, he will be released and go to his mother’s home in Gresham, east of Portland. Once he is physically ready, he will begin occupational therapy to start doing everyday tasks for himself, Hoeflich said.

Johnson, who was born in Southern California but grew up in the Portland area and trained on Mount Hood, shed his bad-boy reputation by winning downhill gold at the Sarajevo Olympics. He was attempting a comeback when he crashed face-first on hard-packed snow March 22 during a warmup for the U.S. Alpine Championships in Whitefish, Mont.

DB Johnson said her son _ known for being fiercely independent, often to a fault _ will recover faster than doctors think.

“I think he’ll be ornery enough inside that he wants to get out of there, and get out and do things,” she said. “He’s always been a very ambitious person, so for him to sit still, I believe that bothers him.”

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press