Share this article

print logo

Ski accident might yield blessing Injuries teen suffered at Holiday Valley lead to early discovery of undetected brain tumor

Charlie Jane Clark broke her left leg, suffered a fractured jaw and lost three teeth in a horrific skiing accident Friday night at Holiday Valley Ski Resort.

It was, her parents are convinced, the luckiest thing that ever happened to her.

A CAT scan done that night to rule out any serious head trauma revealed a tumor on her brain -- an unrelated condition that her parents believe otherwise might have gone undetected for a while.

"It was a blessing in disguise," said her father, David. "God has a neat way of helping us find things. We would have never known [the tumor] was there."

"I still consider this the luckiest thing that ever happened to her," added Charlie's mother, Janine. "Because it was detected early, we'll be able to kiss and make it better."

The Clarks, of Cheektowaga, are people of faith, a faith that has buoyed them at every turn in the tumultuous last six days.

Charlie -- a 15-year-old sophomore at Buffalo Seminary -- underwent an MRI exam Wednesday. Her mother and her Daisy Bunny, her stuffed rabbit from her childhood, accompanied her in the MRI tube.

The Clarks, who held hands al most throughout an hourlong interview in Women and Children's Hospital, were waiting for the MRI results to determine more about the tumor, believed to be half the size of a thumb, lodged in the teenager's cerebellum.

"Because we don't have a definite prognosis on what we're dealing with, I think the prognosis is great," Janine Clark said. "We'll deal with whatever comes up, when it comes up."

Charlie, whose room in Children's Hospital was filling up with flowers and get-well wishes from friends, was asked what she would like to tell her classmates and other friends.

"I'm doing well, and thank you for caring," she said clearly. "And wear your helmet when you're skiing."

Her parents said they now don't know whether Charlie was wearing her helmet Friday night, when she slammed into a vertical snow-making pole at Holiday Valley.

They have no other details about the mishap, which their daughter can't remember. But Charlie clearly took much of the impact on her chin -- an impact so jarring that it sent her retainer and a tooth into her esophagus.

The accident was one of several in the last 10 days, apparently caused by icy conditions on local ski slopes. One day before Charlie's accident, a 17-year-old Cattaraugus County youth died of injuries suffered two days earlier at Holiday Valley.

Despite everything they have been through the last six days, the Clarks feel somewhat guilty over the different outcomes of the two horrible skiing accidents.

"We have our guilt, survivors' guilt," David Clark said. "Why was one lost and one not? Why weren't both saved? And how do you reach out to that family?"

The Clarks learned about their daughter's accident while attending a weekend retreat at Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Camp.

The drive from Chautauqua County remains a blur, as Janine Clark juggled two cell phones, getting updates on her daughter's condition from various teams of Women and Children's doctors.

"I was very thankful she was alive," her mother said. "We said a prayer that she made it through and everything was fixable. Then it was anger that she would have to . . . face things you pray your child's not going to have to face."

When the Clarks reached the hospital late Friday night, Janine Clark rushed to her daughter's side, kissed her and told her how much she loves her.

Charlie replied with a remark that only a teenager's parent might appreciate.

"They cut my sweater, but they didn't [have to] cut my jacket," she said.

That night, Charlie underwent three surgeries, one to set her leg fracture, another to remove the retainer and tooth from her esophagus and the third on her jaw.

Wednesday, while awaiting the latest MRI results, the Clarks still didn't know whether Charlie would remain in the hospital for treatment of her tumor; otherwise, she may be released in a few days.

Charlie has started talking, smiling, laughing and going through physical therapy. Her parents appeal to her sense of humor by singing to her: "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth." And she's itching to get home and back to school.

"Watch out, world," her father said. "She's almost mobile again."

In the meantime, the couple wanted to thank many people who have helped the family, which includes Charlie's brothers, Brandon, 19, and Reid, 14.

They are especially thankful for the new helipad, which allowed Mercy Flight to get her to the hospital much faster. They also appreciate the medical care, nurses and instant briefings from six different teams of doctors the first night.

"They say you don't ever want to be here, but once you're here, there's no other place you want to be," David Clark said.


There are no comments - be the first to comment