We reported a few months ago that Squaw Valley’s CEO, Andy Wirth, was involved in a Sky Diving accident in Lodi, CA. Mr Wirth was jumping with JT Holmes and Timy Dutton at the time of the accident that left him in critical condition. After Nearly 50 days in the hospital, 21 surgeries, well over 30 hours in the operating room Mr. Wirth is back to work. He shared this update on his Facebook page announcing his return.
Andy Wirth’s Facebook Update:
“I have been gone for about three months due to a skydiving accident. To all of you who supported me during this timeframe, thank you so very much. Your thoughts, prayers and good wishes really played a key role in the making it through some fairly challenging times. Nearly 50 days in the hospital, 21 surgeries, well over 30 hours in the operating room and I am so very glad to be back home in the mountains. I am doing quite well now with extensive physical therapy. My therapist is great and my hand is recovering well as is my elbow, albeit a bit more slowly.
I am most thankful to be alive, to have kept my right arm and to have the support of my wonderful wife, my family and the many, many friends who came to see me in the hospital or send a longer good wishes. At work, my executive team really did an incredible job keeping things going and also arranging for an incredible and thoughtful Christmas-welcome home when we arrived back to our house on December 23. A deep and sincere thank you to all of you.
I thought I would share with you a letter which I sent to Eddie Vedder about a days after the accident (to understand the context of this letter, it is helpful to either know the song “just breathe” or to have the lyrics handy.:” – Andy Wirth
Dear Eddie ~
“I am writing you, yes, as a fan, but more as someone who has recently gone though a very rough patch; a rough patch which with the help and guidance of your song, “Just Breathe” has me alive, with my right arm and miraculously (albeit very limited presently) playing guitar again. (For the sake of clarity, surviving, keeping my right arm and any use of my hand/arm where very real questions on the afternoon on Sunday, October 13.) I thought you might be interested to know that the lyrics to “Just Breathe” were the powerful narrative for this very intense hour and a half of my life and my survival.
I have been skydiving for a few years now, ever since moving to Lake Tahoe, California from the mountains of Colorado. On Sunday, October 13th, I was jumping with some good friends and experienced skydivers (and fairly famous in their own right), JT Holmes and Timy Dutton. On that day, we were jumping out of Lodi, California. Because of the changing winds that afternoon, the drop zone was quite small/narrow. We exited the plane and had so much fun, again, as usual, freefalling together. However, when I pitched my canopy, I was quite disoriented and it took me a while to spot the drop zone. While I was trying to fly to my safe area setting up for my downwind leg, base and final (landing), it became apparent that with about 45 seconds or so left, I was not going to make it, and was boxed in by way of power lines with no safe place to land. At about 400 feet above ground level, my only option was a downwind landing (landing fast ‘n hot) in a vineyard with very narrow rows. For my skill level, I executed a good landing, but I collided with large metal stakes, wires and big cabernet vines.
For a bit of background, I work in the business world as a CEO of two great ski mountains. Squaw Valley and Alpine now, but prior to that, I was a back country ranger in Colorado, involved in many high angle rescues inclusive of substantial trauma. I later went on to serve my community as a volunteer ambulance/fireman in a small town in the mountains of Colorado.
Immediately after landing, I saw that my right arm was mangled and bleeding profusely. I quickly went into my emergency medical response mode and assessed the situation. I knew it would be a while before anyone would get to me, and my most dominant feeling was of being very much alone.
Last year, a good friend of mine, Buck Branneman had a documentary made about him (called “Buck”). He has been a friend for about 15 years and it was so great to see him and his story covered in this film. At the end of this film, during the credits played a very powerful tune from one of my favorite bands/songwriters of all time, Pearl Jam/Eddie Vedder. And the song was, of course, “Just Breathe”.
My wife Karen and I got married in Vancouver, BC three years ago and have been deeply in love ever since we met. This song has a deep meaning and spirit for both of us. I learned how to play Just Breathe on the guitar and it’s a favorite request of Karen’s anytime I pick up the guitar.
While my medical training had kicked in, the words “Just Breathe” and the song came to me immediately, and I began to sing it from the very beginning, keeping myself calm. The first few lines were perfectly appropriate in that death was very much around me as I was bleeding out. At that moment, the lyrics of Just Breathe helped me reconcile the fact that every life must end.
You have to understand that at this moment my arm was shredded and I was bleeding profusely, but I decided to try and slow down the bleeding by painfully shoving my left hand into my right armpit in desperate hopes of survival. I had already bled out quite a bit through my brachial artery and didn’t have but 3-4 minutes left. As I held my hand as a tourniquet I proceeded with the rest of the songs lyrics as I continued to wait for help. “Just Breathe” was providing me with spiritual direction as much as anything. The song brought to me burning images and vignettes of my wife and each of my three children; it instructed me on what to do and continued to help me find peace and reconcile with passing; importantly, however, it was inspiring me to press on with efforts to live…to make it.
As help came to me after 12 -15 minutes, in between guiding and directing them, I was still singing ‘Just Breathe” to myself, audibly.The moments of my life and the vignettes were of my life were pointed to by the lyrics in your song, including my beautiful wife, my three children and what is generally a wonderful life. When I was loaded onto flight for life helicopter, I did not have very much blood, so little that the EMTs could not pull any vitals on me. However, I knew that I was now close to trauma care. Again, the lyrics and your incredible chord progressions kept looping through my mind.
Upon arrival at the trauma center at UC Davis in Sacramento, I had three separate teams of surgeons working on me (trauma, ortho and plastics). As I went under, I was at this point done with the looping the song through my head, because I had done everything I possibly could to stay alive and it was now up to the surgeons to save my life, save and save my arm so I could play the guitar again. The surgeons said that they would do all they could to save my arm. It was all in their hands. And now it was quite literally for me, the last lyric of “Just Breathe….”meet you on the other side”.
Three surgeries (19 hours), nine days in ICU and I write this from my hospital bed with another week to go. I am on the path to recovery and hope to still play “Just Breathe” for my wife when all is done. It will be quite a while, in truth, but remains my primary objective. When friends ask how I am doing, I very sincerely reply, “just outstanding, as you see I’ve gone from coming to peace with my own death, to being able to keep my right arm and now the prospect of playing guitar is real. I a doing just outstanding!”
I have always found your lyrics to have so much meaning to them. I wanted you to know that in in this case, your tune and lyrics helped guide me and were the musical bed to this traumatic event in my life. “Just Breathe” was the narrative to my survival.
I hope to meet you one day, and thank you in person, because in many ways “yes I am a lucky man”.