Luke Mitrani, among the world’s top elite snowboarders, is no stranger to injury. Concussions, dislocations, and broken limbs are simply brushed-aside as minor setbacks by superpipe boarders who push their limits testing out ever-dangerous tricks in 22’ tall monster tube.
Yet, his recent neck fracture, sustained just a week ago, is a terrifying incident that cannot easily be shaken-off. While training at the Cardrona Alpine Resort pipe in New Zealand on September 1, he spun out of a whirling “frontside double cork 1080” and landed right smack on his back (according to his sports agent’s press release distributed yesterday.) Splayed on the hardened base, the once confident, daredevil athlete now faced the scare of his 23-year-old life. As numbness coursed through his body, he questioned his future. “I was thinking if I can ever move, if I'm paralyzed, as long as I don't die I will appreciate every aspect of this life,” said Mitrani in a New Zealand Press interview.
After arriving at the world-renowned Christchurch Hospital, expert surgical staff soon diagnosed Mitrani as having a life-threatening condition – a cervical fracture of the C5 vertebrae. Just inches from the base of his skull, a break of this type could prove disastrous. For the farther the injury is up the spine, the more devastating the impact - with quadriplegia and respiration difficulties looming as strong possibilities.
Doctors promptly assessed the extent of the fracture, and decided on a solution focused not only on remedying Mitrani’s immediate condition, but minimizing the prospect of a long-term, life-impacting prognosis.
His hip, used just to hours ago to propel him through gyroscopic tricks, came to the rescue. Medical staff removed select bone pieces from his side, which were then fused with the existing bone structure in his neck. The delicate operation proved successful in minimizing any further injury from the crash.
A week later, wearing a neck brace to promote healing and ward off further injury, Mitrani is now recuperating at the nearby Burwood Hospital’s Spinal Unit. Clinical director Raj Singhal, in the Press interview, said that Mitrani is lucky to have not “suffered permanent damage.” He has just begin an extended program of rehabilitation and physical therapy – estimated to last up to a full year.
Here, he is slowly acclimating his body, back to some semblance of normalcy, by resting, exercising, and enjoying simple walks around the grounds. Taking it one step at a time, the relieved Mitraini said, “Just to breathe feels good enough to me."
With hopes now dashed for making Team USA for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Mitrani said, “Sure, it's a bummer to no longer have a shot at this Olympics, but I am so overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation knowing that I narrowly escaped the unthinkable, and have the opportunity to get my life back and snowboard again soon.”