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Injured snowboarder returns to slope

Nick Ventura stood on his snowboard at the top of the hill in anticipation of what would arguably be the most important run of his young life.

"You ready?" said Nick, turning to his father, Brian.

"I'm ready," said Brian, as he held the video camera.

Then, Nick glided down the slope.

Nick, 14, of suburban Cleveland, returned this weekend to HoliMont Ski Resort in Ellicottville, where on this very same date a year ago, he nearly lost his life snowboarding.

It was Feb. 19, 2011, while on vacation with friends. Nick was on the slopes at HoliMont, when he slid off a trail and into a tree.

While his helmet likely saved his life, Nick still suffered a fractured skull and significant brain injuries.

The ski patrol was quickly on the scene. Nick was unconscious. His breathing was shallow. Nick's parents, Brian and Patty -- who did not make the trip from Ohio -- received a phone call with the sickening news about their only child.

Paramedics took Nick to a local hospital, before transferring him to Women & Children's Hospital in Buffalo. Dr. Veetai Li, chief of neurosurgery, performed the emergency surgery on Nick, who would spend five weeks in the pediatric intensive-care unit, most of it in a drug-induced coma.

By March, Nick was transferred back home to the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, where he would begin his rehabilitation. He had to relearn how to talk, how to walk and how to feed himself. The process was difficult and often frustrating.

But Nick was determined and has made miraculous strides.

While his speech is still slow and he has trouble remembering, Nick returned to school at Lakewood Catholic Academy, where he gets As and Bs and was chosen student council president.

In September, Nick and his father came back to Buffalo to thank the doctors and staff at Women & Children's. The Venturas are even starting a foundation to help people with traumatic brain injuries pay for the therapy not covered by insurance.

But there would be one more thing left for Nick to do: HoliMont.

Nick returned to the Ellicottville resort on the one-year anniversary of his accident to thank the ski patrol.

"I've been a patroller for 15 years and it was one of the most traumatic injuries I've ever had to treat," said senior HoliMont patroller Mark Schultz, "but it was also one of the greatest success and recovery stories we could ever hope to share."

"He is nothing short of a miracle," Schultz said of Nick. "He's a determined and strong young man who has just amazing faith in God and his own desire to set goals and achieve them."

Nick, surrounded by members of the ski patrol, spent about two hours on the slopes Saturday.

But his first run was on Friday, when Nick eased back into snowboarding by tackling one of the smaller hills.

"I compare it to his birth," said his father, who recounted Friday's scene. "I felt those same emotions standing on top of the hill watching him go down."

Brian Ventura followed his son down the hill with the video camera. When Nick reached the bottom, his father met him and gave him a big hug.

email: jrey@buffnews.com