Bill Johnson emerges from coma |

Bill Johnson emerges from coma

PORTLAND, ORE. – Family and friends of Olympic gold medalist Bill Johnson are flocking to the hospital upon catching word he’s come out of a coma, a hospital spokeswoman said Friday.

“It’s been a gradual awakening out of a coma,” said Lisa Godwin of the Providence Medical Center in Portland, Ore. “His recovery becomes more aggressive every day.”

That’s a different story from the reason he was put there.

Johnson, who calls Olympic Valley his home, was critically injured in a high-speed crash during a downhill race at Big Mountain Resort in Montana three weeks ago. He was treated for severe head trauma.

Now, his eyes are open. He hasn’t spoken, but he responds to commands, Godwin pointed out.

“He seems to recognize what’s going on,” she added.

The real question remains the extent of brain damage, if any.

“We’re in a wait and see (mode),” Godwin said, echoing statements made by Johnson’s doctors.

Meanwhile, he’s performing minor exercises in bed under the direction of a physical therapist. They include arm and leg movements.

As for his mental outlook, loved ones and his skiing trainer seem to lift his spirits.

Johnson was transferred to the hospital in Oregon – where his family lives – from the Kalispell Regional Medical Center in Montana.

Johnson’s mother and stepfather said he looked tired and depressed following the 75-minute flight aboard a private jet from a Montana hospital. But a visit from Johnson’s skiing trainer, John Creel, and Creel’s wife on Friday morning seemed to lift his spirits.

“They were very upbeat and real positive, and he just responded really well,” said Johnson’s mother, DB Johnson. ”He was nodding his head, looking at them.”

Creel jokingly reminded Johnson of their last conversation before the crash: Johnson was supposed to meet Creel back at the team truck after the training run.

Creel said to Johnson “where have you been? I’ve been waiting at the truck the last three weeks,” according to the stepfather, Jimmy Cooper. “And Billy kind of smiled.”

Eventually, he will be released and go to his mother’s home in Gresham, east of Portland.

The 1984 Sarajevo Olympics champion in the downhill was born in Southern California but grew up in the Portland area, training on Mount Hood. On March 22, the 41-year-old racer was attempting a comeback when he crashed face-first and through two fences on the hard-packed snow during a warmup race for the U.S. Alpine Championships in Whitefish, Mont.

DB Johnson told an Associated Press writer that her son – known for being fiercely independent – will recover faster than doctors think. “I think he’ll be ornery enough inside that he wants to get out of there, and get out and do things,” she said. “He’s always been a very ambitious person, so for him to sit still, I believe that bothers him.”

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