Figure Skating
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 Monday, February 14
After miracle recovery, Binnebose hopes to return
 
Associated Press

 CLEVELAND--Paul Binnebose's physical scars are already fading.

Hair covers the part of his skull removed to relieve pressure on his swollen brain. The stark black eye patch is gone, though his double vision remains. Slight facial paralysis is his most noticeable disfigurement.

But while Binnebose will soon be whole, his loved ones' memories will be scarred forever.

"My family had the worst part. They have memories they're going to carry around," said Binnebose, who has no recollection of the accident that nearly killed him. "I wouldn't want anyone to have that."

Paul Binnebose
Paul Binnebose(l) waves to crowd during opening ceremonies of the 2000 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Binnebose and partner Laura Handy were silver medalists at both the 1999 World Junior Championships and the Junior Grand Prix final, and finished third as seniors at last year's U.S. Championships. They were eager for the new season, training for Skate America on Sept. 29 in Newark, Del. As they practiced a star lift, where Binnebose lifts Handy above his head with one hand, his back began spasming from a previous injury.

His feet tangled beneath him and he tumbled to the ice, Handy crashing down upon him. His head slammed onto the ice so hard spectators in the stands heard the sickening thud. His skull split.

"I can just visualize how horrible it was in my head," said Binnebose's mother, Judy, who was videotaping practice that morning. "When I went down to the ice, he was having convulsions.

People were holding his head so he didn't constantly hit it against the ice."

Later that night, at the Christiana Medical Center, Binnebose stopped breathing.

"I heard them say his pupils were fixed and dilated," Judy Binnebose said. "Of course, at that point, I felt he was dead."

He wasn't, but it was close. With his brain swelling, doctors tried one last measure to save his life. They cut his skull from ear to ear across the top of his head and removed a large piece of skull.

He was then put in a barbiturate-induced coma to allow his brain to heal.

"Eww!" Binnebose said with a laugh as he listened to the gory details. "I have a dent in my head, but that's really the only thing. Brain surgery, all that stuff ... I've been told I went through a lot, but it really ain't nothing to me."

"It was to us," his mother retorted.

The trauma didn't end with surgery. He stopped breathing again and had to be revived. He spent almost five wedkw in either a coma or sedated state. He developed pneumonia, a blood infection and a heart infection. He had so much fluid in his chest cavity it shrunk his lungs. One of his lungs collapsed.

"We were hanging on by a thread," Judy Binnebose said. "The doctors will look at us and say, `There were four days we didn't expect him to live."'

Even if he lived, would Binnebose be left with any life? Or would the strong, vibrant young man who once lifted Handy so high be reduced to a shell?

Almost a month after his accident, Binnebose began mouthing words and responding to commands with blinks of his eyes. It was another week before he regained total consciousness.

"When I realized how much time was missing, that's when it first hit me how long I was taking a timeout for," he said. "I guess even now, I can't really comprehend all it involved. To think about this and that and pneumonia ... I should have been gone. I should have been dead."

Binnebose was released from the hospital Nov. 30. He'd lost 50 pounds. It took all his strength just to lift his thumb. The right half of his face was paralyzed, causing double vision in his right eye.

But he still wanted to skate.

"He was told by one doctor, `You really shouldn't skate. If you hit your head again really bad, you're going to die. You just don't have the reserves,"' sister Rhonda said. "That really shook his world."

Not enough to keep him off the ice, though. After dozens of physical therapy sessions, Binnebose returned to the ice last month. He wore a helmet, which longtime coach Ron Ludington would like to see required for pairs skaters.

Binnebose isn't the first pairs skater to suffer a serious head injury. Russian Yelena Berezhnaya, who has won the last two world titles, was hospitalized for a month after a former partner's blade sliced her skull while they practiced side-by-side spins.

"Up until now, I wasn't a big advocate of helmets," Binnebose said. "They're big and bulky and feel weird on your head. But I sure could have used one on Sept. 29."

Binnebose has no doubt he and Handy will skate competitively again. Only if doctors say his back is too unstable to support Handy on lifts would he quit.

"People on the outside looking in can say, `What are you doing? This is ridiculous, you're going to kill yourself,"' he said. "To quit now would be giving up when I'm on the upside of my career. I just don't think I'm really ready to not hear, `Representing the United States of America, Laura Handy and J. Paul Binnebose."

The Delaware Amateur Skating Foundation has established a fund to help cover Binnebose's medical expenses. Donors should make checks payable to the Delaware Amateur Skating Foundation, write "Paul Binnebose" in the bottom left corner of the check and send to:

Delaware Amatuer Skating Foundation
Attn: Tracey Poletis
University of Delaware Arena
Route 896 - South College Avenue
Newark, Delaware 19716

 


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AUDIO/VIDEO
 1999 Laura Handy and Paul Binnebose silver medal performance at Nationals (Courtesy of ABC Sports)
RealVideo: 56.6