Injured Skier Offers Lifesaving Advice Following His Traumatic Fall

03/02/01    Portland, Ore.

OHSU Hospital Trauma Surgeon Says a Ski Helmet Can Prevent or Reduce Head Injury

Timothy Strelchun timidly stood at the top of a black diamond ski run for 10 minutes. He had never skied an advanced run and his skiing partner had nervously backed out. The melted snow began to freeze. But overconfident from a great day, Strelchun decided to take one last run. Unfortunately, he never considered wearing a helmet.

"I wasn't purposefully ignoring safety precautions; as a skier, you worry more about breaking your leg instead of landing on your head," said the 32-year-old Hillsboro man. "I was thinking about having fun."

As he was approaching the end of the run, Strelchun stumbled, fell and landed on his forehead knocking himself unconscious for more than half an hour. He suffered traumatic injuries because he had not thought to wear a helmet.

Strelchun was treated at Oregon Health Sciences University for traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, multiple rib fractures and a broken jaw. He spent six weeks in the hospital, where he battled complications, including nerve damage, short-term memory loss, double vision and a pulmonary embolism.

Neurosurgeon Randall Chesnut, M.D., director of Neurological Trauma and Neurological Surgery Critical Care at OHSU, said a helmet could have prevented a trip to the hospital.

"Had Timothy been wearing a helmet, he probably would not have been knocked unconscious, and he would have been able to protect himself from injury during the fall," said Chesnut. "He might have been treated at the mountain's clinic, and we would never have seen him in the ICU."

Stories like Strelchun's are not uncommon. From 1992 through 1999 there were 132 patients with snow sports injuries treated through the Oregon Trauma System.

Chesnut points out there are many more ski and snowboard injuries that are not serious enough to require emergency treatment. Mild injuries may go unnoticed because people do not attribute dizziness and headaches to a fall.

"The important message to remember is that ski helmets will reduce the risk or prevent head and spinal cord injury associated with skiing and snowboarding," said Chesnut.

Unfortunately Chesnut's message came too late for Strelchun, but he makes a point to share the advice with friends and co-workers in hope that no one else has to suffer like he did.

"I don't want to be a thorn in anyone's side. I just don't want anyone else to experience the pain and suffering that me and my family went through," said Strelchun. Strelchun attributes his recovery to the support of his family. "I never had a lack of motivation to work hard and get better. I wanted to pick up my daughter again and help my wife with the birth of our next baby."

Editor's Note: Timothy Strelchun and Dr. Chesnut are available for interviews. If interested, please contact Jessica Green, 503 494-8231