‘I won the war’
ARAPAHOE BASIN – Three years ago, a traumatic skiing accident at Arapahoe Basin nearly killed a vibrant, recent college graduate named Denver Haslam. Last week, Haslam – the same young man who was hospitalized for three months with severe injuries such as shattered ribs, a torn kidney and a lacerated pancreas – assuredly skied the slopes at the Arapahoe Basin, pausing by the tree that nearly ended his life.”It’s good to see it and look at it as a passing memory and know it wasn’t my final resting place,” Haslam said in whiteout conditions Thursday, while standing in the small grove of trees under the Norway Lift and above A-Basin’s terrain park. A pack of friends from the Colorado School of Mines was in tow, as well as Peter Werlin, one of the Flight For Life nurses who helped keep Haslam alive for the four hours it took to get to Denver through Sunday traffic and snowy weather on Feb. 3, 2003.On that day, Haslam split up from the friends he was skiing with. The group went down a bump run, but Haslam decided he wanted to zip to the bottom of the hill.
Haslam was skiing very fast – he estimates 50 miles per hour – when he saw a ledge he wanted to launch off of, so he turned his skis to slow down and hit a sheet of ice.”I was probably in the air for a good 100, 150 feet. I landed on my stomach and hit a tree,” Haslam said.As he lay slumped at the tree’s base, Haslam couldn’t feel any pain but knew he was hurt badly because his mind was telling his body to move and nothing was happening. Haslam broke his back, punctured both lungs, broke his leg, lacerated his pancreas, shattered his right ribcage, broke his shoulder, tore ligaments in his neck, split his left kidney in half and his brain was bleeding.”My surgeon gave me a half-percent chance to live and said that was only because my heart was still beating,” Haslam said.’He just kept surviving’Flight For Life helicopters had been grounded shortly before Haslam’s crash because of poor weather conditions, so Werlin, EMT Phil McFall, paramedic Lori Hodges and nurse Susan Anderson picked up Haslam from the Keystone Medical Center in an urgent-care ambulance. Werlin recalled Haslam’s condition as conscious but silent.
“He was ghastly pale, I’ll never forget that,” Werlin said.They started for Denver with four units of blood, but the supply ran dry by the time they reached the Eisenhower Tunnel – a drive that took an hour because of stormy conditions and heavy Sunday afternoon traffic.On the east side of the tunnel, the crew saw a line of cars at a standstill and knew the situation was dire. The only way Haslam was going to live was if they could continue giving him blood.Another ambulance met the team near Floyd Hill with four more units of blood, which lasted until they arrived at St. Anthony Central in Denver.Haslam remained in a drug-induced coma for more than a month after the accident and spent a total of three months in the hospital, during which he underwent intense physical therapy.
“He was so sick for so long, he just kept surviving – he’s a survivor,” Werlin said, adding that Haslam lived because he was skiing with a helmet, which allowed him to remain conscious despite his otherwise potentially fatal injuries.No bad memoriesHaslam, now 26 and working as a project manager for a computer consulting firm in Denver, is fully recovered. He exercises and does pilates regularly, he said. He marked the first anniversary of his grim ordeal by getting back on his skis and taking runs at A-Basin. That year, he and Werlin promised each other they would ski together on the anniversary date for as many years as possible.Haslam said he believes in living life to the fullest and focusing on the positives, and coming back to the Basin year after year doesn’t bring back bad memories, only good thoughts of family and friends.”I won,” he said looking at the tree he hit on the mountain three years ago. “It might have won the battle that day, but I won the war.”