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Ex-champ has grave infection

Bill Johnson celebrates his downhill gold medal at the Sarajevo Olympics.

Associated Press (1984)

Bill Johnson celebrates his downhill gold medal at the Sarajevo Olympics.

Former Olympic downhill champion Bill Johnson no longer wants to go through treatment after dealing with a life-threatening infection that has attacked his major organs.

Hospitalized since June 29, the onetime daredevil skier refuses a feeding tube, even though it hurts to swallow, his mom said in a phone interview Wednesday. He no longer wants supplemental oxygen or even antibiotics that could possibly help him.

He's tired of being poked with needles, sick of all the tubes attached to him. His mom said Johnson wants to leave the hospital and return to his room at an assisted living facility in Gresham, Ore., where the 53-year-old was living before the illness.

That way, he can fight this on his terms and in his own way.

"He could receive some help with a feeding tube and so on, but he doesn't want it anymore," his mother, D.B. Johnson-Cooper, said. "I understand. He can't do anything. He cannot move his body in any way or use his body in any way. He can hardly talk. It's very sad. Very, very sad."

Johnson's health has steadily declined in recent years because of mini strokes. Three years ago, a major stroke began to steal the use of everything but his left hand — his steering hand, the one he used to power his motorized chair at the care facility.

Now, hardly able to move at all, he "just wants to go to sleep," his mom said.

Still, there are good days. Tuesday, his mom took him out into the hospital's garden and they watched a storm building off in the distance.

"I was so happy," she said. "After that, I think he could be just fine. It was a wonderful day."

His mom said the infection is in his blood stream and doctors can't find the source.

"His vital signs are fine," she said. "His mind is still fine. But the infection is still there. They feel he can go home."

The other day, Johnson had his mom reach out to his friends through the computer, just to let them know his condition.

"He's had a lot of response," she said.

Once, Johnson had a swagger and a rebellious attitude that instantly made him a favorite among fans. He had movie-star looks and a personality to match. He also had the talent to back it up, becoming the first American to capture the downhill crown at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.

In 2001, Johnson made a comeback at the U.S. championships at age 40, hoping to earn a spot for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. But he wiped out during a practice run, suffering a traumatic brain injury that erased nearly a decade of memories.

He improved, but in June 2010, Johnson had a stroke and little by little lost the use of his body.

"There's no quality of life whatsoever," said his mom. "We've talked about this. I don't try to dwell on this subject. I know what he wants. I understand. It's okay."

Two months before his recent infection, his sons took him out for a day on the town in his customized van.

"The boys had a wonderful time with him," his mom said. "They have good memories.

"I have a lot of fond memories. We've had lots and lots of fun together."

She paused.

"He's a fighter," she said. "He's always been so strong and all I can say is I expect he's going to get stronger. As long as he keeps eating, he's going to be fine."

Ex-champ has grave infection 07/17/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 12:30am]

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