Nick Ventura returned to snowboard at HoliMont last Friday for the first time in a year. In most cases that would hardly be noteworthy, but in this case it culminates a story of near disaster, recovery, and the healing power of love. Sunday marked the one year anniversary of a ski trip Nick was on with friends when he collided with a tree. He barely survived. The past year has been dedicated to recuperation and therapy, which resulted in his returning to the slopes last Friday.
Nick was snowboarding down the Exhibition run when he apparently caught an edge and slammed into a tree. As bad as his head injuries were, he was fortunate to be wearing a helmet, otherwise he might had died on the spot. What followed were a series of “little miracles” as described by those who went through the events. Nick had become separated from his friend Dominic Salerno. Ski patrolmen Ryan Dominski, happened to pass by and found Nick lying on the ground. Ryan got on his radio and summoned help. Ski patrolman Mark Schultz, who also happened to be close by, was on the scene in seconds and began to administer oxygen to help Nick breathe. “He was the most critically injured case I’ve ever seen” recalls Mark. He continued to administer oxygen on the toboggan run down the slope and into the ski patrol facility. “I was breathing for him,” Mark says. From there they called 911 to summon an ambulance. Mark recalls that the ambulance crew happened to already be in the area, and they also arrived in just seconds. They put Nick on a respirator and began to make arraignments to have him transported to a hospital in Buffalo by Mercy Flight. It turned out the day was too windy for the Mercy Flight helicopter to fly, so ground transportation became the only option. This gave the emergency crew a chance to think over their options. They chose to transport Nick to Women and Childrens’s Hospital of Buffalo because of their outstanding Pediatric Care Unit. If Mercy Flight had been available, they might have wasted precious time transporting Nick to a facility less equipped to handle his case. Mark, the ski patrolman who had first attended to Nick on the slopes, rode in the ambulance with him. Dominick, his father Fabio, and family friend Kelly O’Keefe followed behind the ambulance as they made their way to Women and Children’s. Patrolman Justin Latimer called Brian and Patty – Nick’s parents, who were home in Cleveland. Immediately after receiving the news they began the three hour drive to Buffalo. Brian says it was a help to know that someone was with his son at all times.
Nick was admitted to the hospital with traumatic brain injury. The first challenge for Nick’s doctors was to reduce the swelling in his skull. Uncontrolled it would be fatal. The doctors operated to relive the pressure. “There were times we weren’t sure Nick would make it through the night,” Brian tells me. Nick stayed five weeks in the pediatric care unit, and Brian and Patty checked into the Ronald McDonald house. For the first several weeks either Brian or Patty was constantly at Nick’s side; taking turns sleeping in Nick’s room at night. Several members of the HoliMont ski patrol, Mark Schultz among them, made the trip to Buffalo to visit Nick in the hospital. Eventually, the swelling went down and Nick began to come around. Finally, Brian and Patty were able to take Nick home where he began to undergo physical therapy at the Cleveland Clinic and Rehabilitation Hospital. He underwent therapy six times a week, and progress at first was painfully slow. His speech was slow and deliberate and he walked slowly. At one point Dad promised his son that if Nick could ever return to snowboarding, he would learn to ski. “If you had told me in September that I would be here, (at HoliMont) to ski with Nick, I never would have believed you,” Brian says. Since then Nick has made remarkable progress. He has slight difficulty speaking, and a bit of trouble running, but none of that was going to keep him off the slopes.
A reunion with Nick and the various ski patrolmen who have come to know him over the past year, was arraigned for Saturday morning. There were hugs all around, and expressions of joy at seeing Nick back on the slopes. Even a couple of crusty, tough-as-nails, ski patrolmen had to wipe a tear away. Mark Schultz shows off a photo of Nick, wrapped in plastic, that he kept in his jacket pocket all last season and this year. “Whenever I skied, he was with me.” he tells the group. As for Nick, he took the whole thing is stride, when asked if he had any butterflies about getting back on a snowboard, his reply is quick and succinct “No,” he said with a smile and his eyes cast towards the slopes. Fabio who had skied with him on Friday said, “He never hesitated. He had no problem. He’s a strong young man. He’s got faith and determination.”
The future, which had first seemed so horribly unlikely, is now bright. Just now high school age, Nick with be enrolling in St. Ignatius, a private high school, in September. “I’m still amazed,” Brian says, as he contemplates the many “little miracles” that lead to this day. Dad kept his promise and is now taking ski lessons. He credits the the excellent care Nick received at HoliMont, and the skilled surgeons at the hospital for pulling him through. But mostly Brian is grateful for the love and support Nick continues to receive from many members of the HoliMont ski patrol who visited Nick and became close to the family. As he says, “You’re forever bonded to people like that.”