ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Hall of Fame running back and former Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker sustained a paralyzing injury when he fell while skiing at a Steamboat ski resort, and his prospects for recovery are uncertain, doctors reported Saturday.
There's no sign of fracture, but the injury has left him paralyzed indefinitely, said Dr. Jay Law, neurosurgeon at Columbia Swedish Medical Center.
"He's not moving his arms or legs," Law said. "There's some spontaneous movements now and then but we're not certain if they're reflexes."
Trauma surgeon Dr. John Wolz said it's too early to tell whether the 71-year-old former Heisman Trophy winner will recover.
"The response to this type of injury is very individual and unpredictable and we won't be able to predict what the ultimate recovery may look like any time soon," Wolz said.
Walker's injury will require a long-term recovery and rehabilitation, Wolz said.
"He has recovered enough today to be awake and alert, and recognizes the family that is here with him," Wolz said. "He has no other internal injuries."
Law said, "The best case scenario is he'll walk and get right out of here."
Walker was airlifted to the hospital from Steamboat Springs on Friday after falling on a groomed intermediate trail. Walker remained in a coma until sometime Friday night, Wolz said.
Law praised the emergency efforts of the Steamboat ski patrol, who performed CPR and inserted a tracheal tube on the ski slope.
"They literally saved his life," Law said. "It was an extraordinary accomplishment for the people on the scene."
Resort spokesman Rod Hanna said witnesses told him Walker was making giant-slalom type turns "when he hit a change in terrain, not like moguls or a bump, but rolling terrain, which caused him to travel 20-30 feet in the air. Then he tumbled approximately another 75 feet after he hit."
There were no trees in the area and no collision, Hanna said.
Walker's friend, John Nichols, said he was skiing in front of Walker.
When he realized Walker had crashed, Nichols said he went back up the mountain and was told that Walker's heart had stopped.
"When I got there they said there was no pulse," Nichols said. "After 15 seconds of chest compressions, they got a pulse."
Ski patrolmen also administered oxygen and got Walker off the mountain by toboggan to a waiting ambulance, Hanna said.
Walker, a resident of Steamboat Springs, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
He won the Heisman Trophy at Southern Methodist University in 1948. The Doak Walker award is given to the top college football running back.
An All-America halfback at SMU, Walker played six seasons with the Detroit Lions -- 1950-55 -- leading them to two NFL titles. He was born in Dallas and is married to Skeeter Werner, a member of one of Colorado's most famous ski families.
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