A somersault that landed New York in court, and changed a life

Former New Yorker and Adirondack outside sports activities enthusiast Michael Hannagan was paralyzed in a ski accident at Whiteface Mountain, for which he gained a settlement. He now lives in Southern California and has created a basis to help individuals with spinal accidents. Photograph courtesy of Pawel Sokalski.


Michael Hannagan was in high spirits the morning he attempted an aerial trick on the downhill course at Whiteface Mountain. The maneuver would change his life perpetually, and value New York tens of millions.

It was warm and he was completely happy to be together with his spouse Rosiley and 10-year-old daughter Alyssa at the Olympic alpine website in Wilmington. “Singing,” he recalled. “Having a good time.”

The Hannagans joined a group of skiing lovers—mother and father and youngsters—who had grow to be pals over several months. The group had been assembly at occasions run by Alyssa’s training organization on the state-run snowboarding middle.

On this present day, youngsters and mother and father of students enrolled in the New York Ski Instructional Foundation program gathered at Whiteface to have fun the top of the season with a last group exercise. They brought plates to cross during an awards ceremony, however first they did a bit of skiing. NYSEF had organized for using the ramp to attempt landings into the 50-square-foot Whiteface US Airbag.

Near the underside of the slope, Hannagan skied into the airbag for the primary time. He made a straight strategy and landed in the middle of the bag on that first bounce, good.

A jiffy later, Hannagan watched an adult from their celebration carry out a backflip into the bag. The person was smaller than Hannagan and landed safely.

At 6-foot-2 and 172 kilos, the 44-year-old Hannagan was a fit, seasoned triathlete. He had positioned 1,007th out of 2,277 individuals the summer time earlier than in the Lake Placid Ironman.

“I never did backflips,” Hannagan stated lately. “But the whole point of the airbag was to try a trick and have a soft landing; it was the perfect place to try things out.”

He lifted off and performed a backward somersault into the Olympic Regional Improvement Authority’s airbag, however discovered little resistance, landing on the again of his head on Whiteface’s exhausting, icy floor.

He broke his neck using an airbag marketed as providing a super-soft landing for “Superheroes.”

Hannagan has been paralyzed from the shoulders down since 11:15 a.m. that day—March 17, 2013—about 15 minutes earlier than the NYSEF group was scheduled to satisfy in the lodge for its potluck.

Michael Hannagan and daughter.

Michael Hannagan hugs his daughter Alyssa at Whiteface Mountain on the day earlier than his damage. Photograph courtesy of Hannagan household.

Surprised skiers watched in distress as Hannagan appeared like he was dying, stated Mary Hoyt, a NYSEF ski coach who educated Hannagan’s daughter.

NYSEF executives did not respond to the Adirondack Explorer’s inquiries.

Hannagan sued ORDA for negligence. Last fall, New York paid him a $15 million settlement.

Hannagan injured the C3—the third vertebra from his brain. The break would have happened regardless of a neck damage he incurred in a automotive accident as a highschool scholar, he stated.

An avid soccer participant, scuba diver and all-around athlete for many of his life, Hannagan is a 50-year-old quadriplegic hoping for a scientific breakthrough that will permit him and others like him mobility once more.

In his lawsuit, he blamed ORDA for failing to activate a blower to inflate the lower a part of the bag that was imagined to catch his fall. Only the upper blower was in operation, he stated. There was no lower cushion, he stated.

ORDA has declined to discuss the matter.

After the exhausting landing, a couple of individuals from his group, one a medic, assisted him. A helicopter crew airlifted him to a Burlington, Vt., trauma middle the place he lay in intensive look after 9 days, some of it in a coma. Hooked up to a respirator, he was transferred to a New Jersey rehabilitation middle, where he stayed for more than three months. There, he discovered to breathe on his own again, however he continues to wish a ventilator at night time, when he can’t management respiration muscle mass whereas sleeping.

He has made some progress, buying and selling a CPAP respirator that attached by way of a tracheotomy for a less invasive version. He discovered to regulate an iPad and telephone with a mouth stick.

Small steps like that enhance his life, he stated, however he wants 24-hour-a-day care.

He began the Southwest Catastrophic Damage Fund to pay for his hospital bills, together with prices to remain at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, in New Jersey.

At the time of his damage, Hannagan was an investment banker and senior vice chairman at Raymond James & Associates in New York Metropolis. He additionally had careers in advertising and as a lawyer.

He and his family and their canine had had a good life in New York. That they had a house in Manhattan and a three-bedroom retreat in Jay, just 9 miles from Whiteface. After his damage, he grew disenchanted with the state’s medical care and remedy choices. He moved to California to be nearer to docs in spinal injury analysis.

Reached by the Explorer, Hannagan was reticent about granting an interview. After a week of thought, he spoke concerning the many problems a individual with disabilities endures, the shortened lifespan he anticipates, the importance of supporting spinal damage analysis.

Hannagan in van

Hannagan in Los Angeles. Photograph courtesy of Pawel Sokalski.

He hopes the settlement from New York State will cowl his medical care; his wife is his main caregiver and can’t work. She turns him each two hours in makes an attempt to stop pores and skin lesions.

The months since his accident at Whiteface have seen a collection of challenges and some disappointments. When Mila, the household’s Nova Scotia retriever, was first allowed a visit at the rehab middle, his Adirondack mountaineering and swimming sidekick “didn’t recognize me,” he stated. “I smelled differently. I didn’t interact with her. Everything had changed.”

He tried dwelling once more in his Manhattan condominium. He found himself passing out from dizziness. None of the major hospitals needed to offer rehab providers, he stated. He discovered few buildings accessible for him and his wheelchair.

He read about researchers at UCLA who had gained federal funding to test ways to assist individuals like him regain upper physique mobility. “Everybody else thinks about walking again but it would be a lot better for me to have my arms and hands back.”

A Michigan native who moved to New York after graduating from the University of Maryland Faculty of Regulation in 1998, Hannagan reset his life. He relocated to Los Angeles in 2014 to be close to researcher and neurosurgeon Daniel Lu.

Hannagan created the Michael Hannagan Foundation to boost consciousness and funds for remedies to assist individuals dwelling with spinal injury. He hopes the inspiration can help Lu and different docs doing “the best research and achieving the most life-altering outcomes,” Hannagan stated. The aim, he stated, is to permit docs to work with patients, not spend time chasing grants.

At UCLA, Lu included Hannagan in a group of 19 spine-injured sufferers. Lu has utilized electromagnetic expenses on Hannagan’s neck to check nerve sensations. More trials are deliberate as soon as Hannagan will get over a persistent strain ulcer on his decrease back that has brought about him to remain in bed for almost a yr. He hopes to heal from the bedsore and return to his wheelchair and improve his activities quickly.

Lu says in a video on the Hannagan Foundation web site that 250,000 People stay with spinal injuries and that 11,000 individuals yearly injury their spines.

Hannagan’s legal professionals, who wouldn’t grant an interview, informed New York Courtroom of Claims Decide Judith Arduous that Hannagan sustained his injuries because of ORDA’s negligence. They stated the authority, which operates the state’s Nordic and alpine snowboarding facilities, didn’t keep the airbag appropriately.

Hannagan mouth control

Hannagan makes use of a mouth-controlled keep on with work a pc pill and telephone. Photograph courtesy of Pawel Sokalski.

They accused ORDA of not warning Hannagan of the dangers of damage or dying by trying the backflip. Additionally they claimed that ORDA did not correctly instruct him on the best way to use the airbag, did not appropriately design and construct the ramp to the airbag, and did not adequately inflate the airbag.

ORDA was represented by the state Lawyer Common’s Workplace, which moved for dismissal. The authority asserted that Hannagan was at the very least partly responsible. “Negligence or culpable conduct of the claimant caused or contributed to cause the injuries and/or damages,” the state assistant lawyer common stated in a 2015 petition. He needed any award to be decreased by the proportion of Hannagan’s fault.

Arduous let the case go forward and, as an alternative of a trial, the events settled. After lawyer charges, Hannagan acquired about $10 million.

Jon Lundin, an ORDA spokesman, stated the authority would haven’t any comment on the case. He stated that ORDA not presents the airbag attraction. “ORDA and Whiteface believed that this would be a nice addition to the resort, enhancing the customer’s overall experience,” he stated. “It was discontinued because it did not generate the revenue that was anticipated.”

The airbag is amongst numerous concepts drawn up by ORDA on methods to bolster enterprise. It has mulled installing a mountain coaster and a lengthy zip line on Whiteface as envisioned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. For a few seasons, the authority provided “4×4 Alpine Expedition” guided tours on Whiteface that critics stated uncovered ORDA to liabilities. Added in 2012 to lure guests in summer time and fall, the rides on all-terrain automobiles have been ended last yr as a result of the ATVs have been wanted for different tasks, Lundin stated.

As for the airbag, every consumer signed a waiver and was instructed to land on their ft and to wear a helmet, Lundin stated.

Whiteface bought the airbag for $32,000 and set it up first in the course of the 2012-2013 season. ORDA stopped utilizing it after the 2016-2017 season, Lundin stated. Complaints to the employees had targeted on the airbag’s location, he stated.

A website for Whiteface described the airbag as permitting “park enthusiasts to practice their tricks.”

Hannagan’s legal professionals deposed several individuals and flew the airbag to a check facility in Arizona to examine landings, Hannagan stated. Dummies hit the ground just as Hannagan had, he stated.

At the least two TripAdvisor commenters described dangerous experiences with the Whiteface airbag.

In 2014, a lady from Virginia stated she didn’t obtain satisfactory directions and landed uncomfortably. She stated she was amazed that she wasn’t “paralyzed.”

A writer from Boston stated the airbag experience from October 2016 resulted in months of ache and remedies. The author stated the impression was more durable than expected and that he was recognized with whiplash.

“I emailed Whiteface about this two months ago, urging them to discontinue this dangerous activity, and they have not responded,” the author posted Might 18, 2017. “I am putting this out there in the hopes that I can help prevent this from happening to anyone else.”

Arsen Ambartsumyan, president of US Airbag, stated he turned owner of the company—which was not sued by Hannagan—three years after Hannagan damaged his backbone. “Whenever someone gets (injured), it is a sad story, but you have to consider the sport these people are in. The people practicing, it’s not some family saying let’s have some family fun,” he stated.  “They’re the people who make the selection of the acute sport.

“The airbag is there to prevent serious injury. Can someone get hurt from (an) airbag? Obviously somebody has.”

On Fb, US Airbag calls its product a “huge and super soft stunt airbag used for skiing, snowboarding, BMX, and freefall.” The motto of the company, founded in 2009, is: “Soft Landings for Superheroes.”

The Whiteface bag was about as broad as a small home, taller than a tall man, wanting like a big yellow pillow hyped up in the center.

The website for the area’s tourist workplace,, offered a video and photographs of the airbag in January 2013 with this description: “This is your chance to ride off a 12-foot-tall jump on your skis or snowboard and land in a 50’x50′ pillow of air!!!” The account stated that the jumps into the bag are “a great way to safely practice and learn new tricks.”

Michael and Rosiley Hannagan

Michael and Rosiley Hannagan. Photograph courtesy of Pawel Sokalski.

Athletes using a totally different company’s airbag on the Utah Olympic Park achieve this underneath medical and coach supervision, stated Tom Webb, communications director for US Ski and Snowboard, in Park Metropolis, Utah. He stated he’s unaware of any vital injuries by customers there, and his group does not monitor airbag injuries nationwide.

The bag in Utah is in operation in spring, summer time and fall, he stated, and is constructed with an inclined landing floor to attenuate risks.

Hannagan acknowledged signing a “standard waiver” offered by the youth ski program. No one gave instruction on utilizing the bag, he stated.

Before his accident, he was planning ways to improve his Ironman expertise. He liked hikes in the Adirondacks and four-hour bicycle rides that would take him so far as the Peru apple orchards. He biked at 21 mph, he stated, over hills and bumpy roads.

Now he ponders his future in another way. “If I could make the foundation successful that would be great; if I can help other people avoid some of the battles I’ve had to fight that would be a good thing to leave behind.”

A one that survives for a yr after an damage reminiscent of Hannagan’s at the age he was injured lives one other 22 years on average, says the National Spinal Twine Damage Statistical Middle. Life expectancy falls to 13.three more years if the individual relies on a ventilator, the middle says.

Medical costs prime $1.1 million in the first yr for the kind of damage Hannagan sustained and $191,400 annually thereafter, the center says. Probably the most frequent causes of demise for survivors are pneumonia and septicemia.

“I’m just trying to lead a meaningful life the best I can while I can,” Hannagan stated. “The statistics are all against me as far as lifespan. I just have to do my best in the shortened time I have.”

He suffers fixed and typically mysterious pain, he stated. A draft or a mild contact to his chest can put him in agony.

As he works to avoid utilizing medicine, Hannagan has discovered about natural substances that assist with ache, stress and sleeplessness. He created a company, Botanicaide, to promote hemp-extract products. He hasn’t been capable of dedicate enough time advertising and creating the business due to current medical setbacks.

“I’ve always been a person to look forward,” he stated. “I try to learn from the past. You have to stay positive, be directed and do what you can. I try not to think about too much in terms of what the alternative would have been.”

Every day he’s busy. Lately he joined his householders’ association board.

“I like to say I’m the hardest working quadriplegic you’ll ever meet.”

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