Brazilian Olympian paralyzed after ski accident

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) Olympic aerialist Lais Souza was critically injured in what doctors are calling a freak accident while skiing.

Souza has been an Olympic competitor for more than a decade. She had been a gymnast on the Brazilian Olympic team since 2003. Then this year she began training as an aerialist for the winter games. Global TV has been following Souza’s injury since it happened.

"Everybody in Brazil is really worried about her. She was very happy that she was going to the Winter Olympics so soon. Her plan was to go in 2018," said Brazilian Global TV producer Pallma Fukusig.

Souza was free skiing when she hit a tree at Park City Mountain Resort.

"Athletes are motivated by this. By adrenaline, by goals, by challenges and she was very happy doing this," said Brazilian Team Doctor Antonio Marttos.

Souza is now paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors say her injury is similar to what would happen if a person dove into the shallow end of a pool.

"She had a complete dislocation of the third cervical vertebrae on the fourth cervical vertebrae at the top of the spine," said Dr. Andrew Dailey with University of Utah Health Care.

Doctors worked on the athlete until 1 a.m. Tuesday. They had to surgically connect her dislocated neck.

The Olympian is in high spirits now but she is not out of the woods yet. The doctors are worried about her ability to breathe. The nerves that control a way a person breathes is located right where her neck was dislocated.

"The breathing bit of it is precisely what makes her injury potentially lethal and life threading," said Dr. Holly Ledyard with University of Utah Health Care.

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