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Brazilian Olympic skier paralyzed while training in Utah being treated at Miami hospital

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MIAMI - A Brazilian Olympic freestyle skier who was on her way to competing at the Sochi Winter Games when she was paralyzed while training in Utah remained in critical condition at a Florida hospital that specializes in spinal injuries, her doctors said Friday.

"Right now she's fighting for her life," said Dr. Antonio Marttos, a trauma surgeon at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Lais Souza, 25, was injured while preparing to compete as a skier at the Sochi Winter Games. Dr. Marttos had been involved in her care since the accident on Jan. 27 and was sent by the Brazilian Olympic committee to Salt Lake City to assist in her car.

"Mentally she's strong," he said of Souza, who was also described as always smiling and "cheering up" the staff at the hospital.

Souza remained in an intensive care unit at the Miami hospital and is eating and breathing with the help of machines, but her doctors said she was "starting to breathe by herself without the machine." They were optimistic that her condition will be downgraded to serious over the coming days and that she will be able to breathe without a machine.

"This is the first big step for her," Dr. Marttos said. "So if she can have this happen, be able to live without the machine to breathe, it can be something huge for her life and her quality of life in the future."

The ex-Olympic gymnast injured her spine while preparing to compete as a skier at Sochi. Souza was at the University of Utah hospital since hitting a tree while skiing recreationally. Her spinal cord was not severed, but her doctors said the accident left her unable to move her legs and arms.

Souza participated in the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics as a gymnast before switching to the winter sport. Another Brazilian skier is scheduled to take Souza's place at the Olympics.

Her level of fitness and health will contribute to her recovery, doctors said.

"Someone with the same injury... has a 90 per cent chance of being dead or dying within the first couple weeks," said Dr. Barth Green, a neurosurgeon who co-founded The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami which is one of the largest research centres in the country to help treat her type of injury. "So the fact that she's young and lean and mean and strong is a wonderful prognosis sign because she exceeds what the norm is and she'll show us the same stuff in rehab I'm sure."

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Follow Suzette Laboy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuzetteLaboy

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