Salt Lake City, UT – Professional freeskier Sarah Burke died Thursday morning in a Salt Lake City hospital of injuries sustained in a fall while training in Park City Mountain Resort’s Eagle Superpipe on Jan. 10. She was 29.
Burke, a pioneer in both women’s ski slopestyle and halfpipe, was a driving force behind the sport’s inclusion in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia in 2014. Born in Midland, Ontario, Canada and living in Squamish, British Columbia, Burke was a four-time gold medalist at Winter X Games. She also won the 2001 U.S. Freeskiing Open in halfpipe and second place in slopestyle. She won the first ever world championship halfpipe event. She was awarded an ESPY in 2007 for Best Female Action Sports Athlete. She also had five World Cup victories on her resumé, including two earned last March at La Plagne, France. She won the 2005 world championships at Ruka, Finland, and finished fourth at the 2011 worlds at Park City.
“We are very saddened to learn of Sarah’s passing,” said Alpine Canada president Max Gartner. “On behalf of Alpine Canada, I’d like to extend our sincere sympathies to the family and friends of Sarah and to the freestyle community. The loss of such a great athlete is a tragedy for the entire ski and sport community.”
Burke passed away at 9:22 a.m. Thursday morning at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. As the result of her fall, Burke suffered a ruptured vertebral artery, one of the four major arteries supplying blood to the brain. The rupture of this artery led to a severe intracranial hemorrhage, which caused Burke to go into cardiac arrest on the scene. Emergency personnel responded and CPR was administered on the scene during which time she remained without a pulse or spontaneous breathing.
Studies in the University of Utah Hospital Emergency Department indicated that she retained brainstem function. She was placed on life support and a protocol of therapeutic hypothermia was initiated to protect her brain. An angiogram indicated the site of arterial bleeding, and on Jan. 11 the injured artery was successfully repaired.
After the operation, numerous neurological examinations, electrodiagnostic tests and imaging studies revealed that Burke sustained severe irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest, resulting in hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. While early reports stated that Burke sustained a traumatic brain injury, her condition was the result of a lack of oxygen to the brain during cardiac arrest.
Burke passed away peacefully surrounded by those she loved, according to a statement released Thursday afternoon by her publicist. In accordance with her wishes, Burke’s organs and tissues were donated to save the lives of others.
Burke is survived by her husband, skier Rory Bushfield. The family expressed their deep gratitude to Burke’s close friends for their love and support, and for traveling to Salt Lake City to comfort the family. They also thanked the University of Utah Hospital and her physicians and care team in the Neuro Critical Care Unit for “their incredible care and compassion.”
“Our hearts go out to Sarah’s husband Rory and her entire family. It’s difficult for us to imagine their pain and what they’re going through,” said Canadian Freestyle Ski Association (CFSA) CEO Peter Judge. “Sarah was certainly someone who lived life to the fullest and in doing so was a significant example to our community and far beyond. She will be greatly missed by all of us at the CFSA and the entire ski community.”
Those who wish to make a contribution on behalf of Burke may visit www.giveforward.com/sarahburke. A public celebration of her life will be held in the coming weeks.