Ski Champ Sarah Burke in Critical Condition After Surgery to Repair Torn Artery

PHOTO: Sarah Burke, of Canada, is seen in this Jan. 28, 2010, file photo during the womens final at the Winter X Games at Buttermilk Mountain outside Aspen, Colo.
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Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke was in critical condition Thursday after undergoing a successful operation to repair a torn vertebral artery that had caused bleeding to her brain.

Burke, 29, sustained "serious injuries" after an accident Tuesday in which she crashed on a half-pipe ramp in Park City, Utah.

"With injuries of this type, we need to observe the course of her brain function before making definitive pronouncements about Sarah's prognosis for recovery," Dr. William Couldwell, the neurosurgeon at the University of Utah who performed Burke's surgery, said in a press release from Burke's publicist. "Our Neuro Critical Care team will be monitoring her condition and response continuously over the coming hours and days."

Burke, who is not only one of the best female skiers in the world but a red carpet regular and fashion plate who was once named one of FHM's 100 sexiest women alive, hit her head after a faulty landing while on a training run in the Eagle Superpipe at Park City Mountain Resort.

During the accident, Burke injured a vertebral artery, a set of major arteries in the neck which supply blood to the brain, and resulted in an intracranial hemorrhage, according to a release from her publicist. Disrupting the blood flow to the brain can result in brain damage or death depending on the severity of the case, the Associated Press reported.

"What I've heard, relatively directly, is that she landed a trick down in the bottom end of the pipe, and kind of bounced, from her feet to her head," Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian freestyle team, told the Associated Press. "It wasn't anything that looked like a catastrophic fall, so I'm a bit mystified."

Burke was admitted and treated at University Hospital in Salt Lake, a spokeswoman for the hospital had confirmed.

"She remains in critical care, intubated and under sedation to allow her brain and body to heal," her publicist told ABC News.

Freestyle skiing is something of a daredevil sport -- a sort of trick skiing that uses the half-pipe, which is normally used by snowboarders. In recent days, Burke has been training for the upcoming X Games in Aspen, Colo., in which she has already won the gold four times.

Burke's accident occurred on the same course where snowboarder and Olympic medalist Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2009. Pearce ultimately went through two years of intensive therapy to relearn how to walk, talk and he finally took his first ride on a snowboard in December.

Burke and her husband, Rory Bushfield, also a free skier, are royalty in the skiing world. Bushfield appealed to the public on Twitter late Tuesday, asking for help arranging travel for him and Burke's mother to get to Salt Lake City. According to Burke's publicist, the family is now with Burke at the hospital.

The family requested privacy to focus on Burke's recovery.

Burke was well aware of the extreme risks of her sport, and even discussed the danger on "Good Morning America" two years ago.

"You wear helmets. You wear padding. You do what you have to do, but you learn how to handle it," she said at the time.

In a statement he released Wednesday Bushfield says that his wife is "very strong."

"Sarah is a very strong young woman, and she will most certainly fight to recover," he said.

Burke had also been an advocate for years for freestyle skiing, for both men and women, to be included in the winter Olympics. She had only recently succeeded, but now it's unclear whether she'll be able to compete in the winter games in Russia in 2014.

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