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Sun begins to shine for snowboard accident victim

April 2, 2011

Kathleen Willhide-Michiulis. Submitted photo

It is hard to find solace in last week’s horrific accident on Mammoth Mountain.

But on Wednesday, the remarkable spirit of the female victim broke through like the Eastern Sierra sun.
“I am looking at the positives,” wrote Kathleen Willhide-Michiulis, a season pass holder from the Saugus neighborhood of Santa Clarita.

Unable to speak, she scribbled notes that were posted to the Internet.

“We get front row parking EVERYWHERE! I get to go to the front of the line at Disneyland!”

Willhide-Michiulis, a 43-year-old intermediate snowboarder, crashed into the side of a snowcat Friday, losing a leg when she was entangled in the spinning tiller behind the cat.

“Her lower left leg was completely crushed,” said her husband, Bruno. Willhide-Michiulis was immediately airlifted to a Reno hospital, he said, where her left leg was amputated.

She also suffered major facial bone breaks, lacerations and other major injuries. Her remaining right leg was torn from its hip socket, Michiulis said, the tibia on her remaining leg was broken in several spots and she suffered a single break to the femur.

Although unable to speak by mid-week, Willhide-Michiulis was able to write, and posted to CaringBridge.org, a popular website where people can keep their friends informed of a patient’s condition.

“This is Kathy!” she wrote on Wednesday morning. “I had a good night’s sleep and I am ready for surgery this morning.

“It is one more step to coming home sooner. Everyone’s love and support has been amazing; family, friends, co-workers and even those I don’t know, every one has been a true friend!

“I am looking forward to healing and spending time with everyone.“

The accident occurred at 3:36 p.m., Friday on Mambo, a popular intermediate ski trail that ends at Chair 2/Stump Alley Express. Her husband waited there for her to complete her last run of the day – an end-of-day “race” with her brother, Bob.

She doesn’t do a lot of trails,” said her husband, “maybe four or five.

“For the runs that she does do, she goes very fast, but she doesn’t do any crazy stuff. I think in that race with her brother, she was probably pushing herself pretty hard.”

Bob, on skis, veered off the run to merge with Patrolmen’s – an adjacent run –while Willhide-Michiulis bore left, taking Mambo. Both runs end at Chair 2.

At the same time, the driver of the snowcat, a senior operations staffer at the ski area, was on a mission to rescue a broken down MMSA snowmobile. He was driving on skier’s left on Mambo, headed toward the old “Boneyard” section of the ski area.

He turned left into the Boneyard, saw a flash of black, either on his left or in the driver’s side mirror.

Willhide-Michiulis collided with the snowcat and became entangled in the back track and the tiller – a spinning part of the cat that is designed to break up ice. Ski Patrol and other first responders used a large wrench – the so-called jaws of life – to get her from under the machine, while emergency vehicles gathered in the parking lot.

Paramedics staunched as much bleeding as they could, and took her to Mammoth Hospital, where she was immediately airlifted out.

There was one eyewitness to the accident Michiulis said.

Meanwhile, Willhide-Michiulis continued to display an astonishing will, even as she was taken to surgery Wednesday morning.

“Do I get half-priced pedicures?” she wrote on a piece of paper to her brother Bob.

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