WSU Vancouver student’s snowboard accident drives home the need for head protection

When Alex Feytser hit the slopes at Big Bear, Calif., in January, he never thought the choices he made would endanger his life. The sun was shining. The mountain was covered in fresh powder, and Feytser, an experienced snowboarder, was anxious to get on his board.

Feytser snowboards every week during the season, preferring to ride curves in the snowboard park or to weave between the trees than to shoot down the slopes.

“I like snowboarding better than skiing because it gives more control, more speed, more adrenaline, more everything,” Feytser said.

Feytser loves to snowboard, but hates to wear a helmet. He was not wearing one on Jan. 3 when he turned quarter- and halfpipes in the snowpark on Bear Mountain. Perhaps that’s why he can remember little of what went wrong at 4 p.m. that afternoon, or much of the following day—or the day after that.

All Feytser knows is what emergency workers told him: that he walked into the mountain’s medical center ⎯ bruised and bleeding ⎯ and immediately lost consciousness.

An ambulance carried Feytser to the nearest hospital, where, according to Feytser, a CAT scan revealed a brain bleed and blood clot. Thinking he needed immediate brain surgery, emergency workers transported him by helicopter to a larger hospital with a neurosurgery department. There, a second scan showed the clot had disappeared — something the neurosurgeon called “a miracle.”

Feytser stayed in the hospital overnight for observation and was confined to bed for two weeks thereafter. His headaches continued for a week and a half.

“I feel really lucky,” Feytser said. “The doctor said I should have been dead and that brain surgery would have had life-changing effects.”

According to a 2012 report by The Johns Hopkins University, 10 million Americans ski or snowboard each year in the United States, with approximately 600,000 injuries reported annually. The Eastern Association for Surgery for Trauma reports that traumatic brain injury is often fatal among skiers and snowboarders of all ages, contributing to 42.5 to 88 percent of all injury-related deaths. Snowboarding is particularly dangerous. EAST reports that snowboarders have a 50 percent higher rate of head and neck injury as compared to skiers. Over the past decade, an average of 40 people have died each year while participating in snow sports, according to data from National Ski Areas Association.

Feytser is still under medical observation and has had a total of five brain scans since the accident. His advice to others? “Be careful out there. You’ve got to know what you are doing.”

By doctor’s order, Feytser will not be going to Mount Bachelor with fellow Cougs in February.

Anthony Deringer, manager of the campus recreation program, has advice for others who plan to ski or snowboard during the campus-sponsored trip — or anywhere else — this season.

“Never ski or snowboard without a helmet! It is a $50 investment that can save your life,” Deringer said.

Deringer and other members of the Rec Office staff encourage helmet use to anyone who rents winter sports equipment through them.

“A helmet can make the difference between a concussion and a fatality,” Deringer said.

Although the Rec Office recommends helmet use, they do not require helmets to participate in campus-sponsored winter sports activities, nor do they rent them through the campus rental program. Helmet integrity is compromised if it absorbs an impact, said Deringer. Because evidence of an impact may not be apparent, and the renter may not report it, future helmet-renters could be endangered. Deringer said few rental companies rent helmets for this reason.

“If you have a helmet and you take a fall, you should get rid of it and get a new one,” Deringer said. “That applies whether it’s a bike or ski helmet. Unseen damage to the helmet’s inner liner could compromise its ability to protect your head in the future.”

Feytser will sit out the rest of this season. The money he saves will go toward buying the high-tech, all-white ski helmet he plans to wear next year.

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