“I’m a lucky guy,” he says. “I could have easily died or been paralyzed forever.” —Andre Barbieri
The Grand Finale of our inaugural 2011 Presidio Sports Sports Figure of the Month series celebrates the indomitable positive power of the human spirit — especially following one of life’s darkest moments.
Nine months after a horrific Mammoth snowboarding accident damn near killed him and claimed most of his left leg, Andre Barbieri — our December Sports Figure of the Month Honoree — is achieving triumph over tragedy with uncommon grace, humility, sheer will and sense of humor.
“He’s the most positive person I know before AND after the accident,” says friend and new boss Kelly MacDougall.
Throughout this life-changing ordeal, the Brazilian Barbieri, 30, keeps a healthy perspective…
Since age 13, he’s loooved surfing. He played soccer too, but later in his 20’s, it would give him concerns – ironically, with his left knee.
“Not a problem anymore (psst: it’s gone),” he offers with a killer smile.
He moved to Santa Barbara in 2007 to join older brother, Diego who was already working locally in the restaurant business.
“Plus, I knew (surfing legend) Tom Curren lived here so the surf had to be good!” Andre sez.
The younger Barbieri did live briefly in Colorado for the 2004 ski season – the first time he’d seen snow and he enjoyed boarding because it’s so much like surfing.
He claims to be an intermediate boarder yet not beyond trying zany jumps or even going off-course in and around the trees.
But on this fateful day last March 11…
A fairly normal run down the slopes. Fast but not crazy fast. Diego was behind him when something sticking up in the snow caught his rail as he was turning.
Seconds later, he recalls hitting the fence and the pain – lots of it!
Adrenaline was gushing inside his body while red stuff was gushing out. Going into shock — he has ‘blurry visions’ of being transported down the mountain.
Compound fracture, severed femoral artery and bleeding to death.
“It was bad and I told them to put me on a plane to Brazil – I had no insurance,” Barbieri said.
Two hours later he was airborne –- en route to the nearest hospital in Reno.
“Knew it was going to hurt when they took my ski boot off and I got scared when I realized they already had. I had no feeling in my leg,” he offered.
The first of four surgeries to stop the bleeding was six hours after fence impact.
The second came Sunday to try and fix the femur.
By Tuesday — still had no feeling in his left leg.
“I felt bad for Dr. (Peter) Althausen when he explained my options of trying to save the leg or amputate. Keeping it would mean many more surgeries and a leg that would never really work again. There really was no choice for me,” Andre says.
Saving his knee, however, would be a ‘game day’ decision during surgery – it would have made a huge difference in mobility – but just wasn’t meant to be.
Initial recovery was hard — the meds to kill the pain also numbed his senses and added to the sadness.
“I had a lot of fun with that leg,“ he said as he mourned its loss.
Once back in SB, Mom’s home cooking and TLC (she stayed two months) and an outpouring of community love helped wean him off the meds and transition to his new life.
The Boathouse, where he had worked on the restaurant’s wait staff, threw some fundraisers and gave a percentage of sales to assist with his extensive medical costs. His colleagues also generously donated their tips to help his cause.
“Andre is an amazing guy. He almost died. And now he is such an inspiration….” says Adam White, owner of The Boathouse.
Local star Marcella Young learned of his plight and tracked Barbieri down …
Through her passion for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), she and friend John Beeson, longtime CAF volunteer, were able to meet Andre for lunch.
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