American snowboarder Luke Mitrani knows just how risky his chosen sport can be after breaking his neck during a training accident at a Queenstown ski field.
The 23-year-old was paralysed for about two minutes immediately after the accident at Cardrona Alpine Resort last week but is back on his feet already.
"Just to breathe feels good enough to me," he said.
Burwood Hospital Spinal Unit clinical director Raj Singhal said the unit, which saw all spinal injury patients south of Taupo, normally treated one or two people a year who had been paralysed by ski field accidents.
ACC spent about $18.2 million on 13,000 ski and snowboard-related injury claims last year - most relating to soft-tissue injuries, such as bruises, sprains and strains.
Fractures and dislocations were the second most common ski field-related injury, accounting for 12 per cent of ski claims and 22 per cent of snowboarding claims.
Singhal said only two people, including Mitrani, had been treated for serious spinal injuries at Burwood this season, but neither had suffered permanent damage, despite needing "surgical intervention" for their neck injuries.
"The last five years we always have had one or two spinal injuries where people have lost the ability to walk. This year we've had none so far, which is good."
The number of serious ski injuries saw a "random spike" in 2009, when 24 people required treatment at the Burwood Spinal Unit.
Singhal said skiers and snowboarders needed to recognise their skill level and take a "common-sense approach" on the country's mountain ranges.
"Don't take unnecessary chances . . . and I would recommend helmets," he said.
Speaking to The Press from Burwood Hospital yesterday, Mitrani said it would be up to a year before he was fully recovered, meaning he would miss a shot at participating in next year's Winter Olympics.
However, his initial anxiety after the accident had been replaced by a new-found appreciation for life and he hoped to be able to fly home to California this week to continue his recovery at home.
"It felt like time stood still, like everything just stopped. It's an unexplainable feeling of shock really. I was thinking if I can ever move, if I'm paralysed, as long as I don't die I will appreciate every aspect of this life."
Mitrani had broken "every bone" in his body and suffered a ruptured spleen over more than a decade of competitive snowboarding but this was the first injury that would make him more cautious, he said.
He would be returning to the mountains as soon he could, though.
"It's a dangerous sport but it's a dangerous life right, you could go out in the street and get hit by a car."
He was grateful for the care he had received in New Zealand, which was paid for by the US snowboarding team's insurance.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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