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Avalanche Victim Turned Organ Donor Honored and Remembered

Mark Massanari and Bobbie Gorron are the parents of Corey Borg-Massanari, one of two skiers who tragically passed away after being buried in a rare, inbounds avalanche at Taos Ski Valley while on a ski trip in January. Corey was a Colorado native and an avid skier who moved to Vail to attend school. He was also a registered organ donor. Bobbie and Mark open up to CKF about Corey’s life and their experience losing a child who also saved the lives of others’ through organ donation.

Mark Massanari: Corey had a unique personality. He had a quirky sense of humor. Even though he wasn’t always the funniest guy in the room, he thought he was. That by itself made everybody laugh because he could laugh at himself—he never took himself too seriously. Corey also didn’t like when people were mad or upset. He always wanted people around him to be happy and positive. He really enjoyed the outdoors too. He grew up in Minnesota and loved winter sports: hockey, fishing, ice fishing, hunting, snowmobiling. It was odd—it’s so cold in Minnesota, but he loved being outside in the winter.

He started snowboarding before he came to live with me in Vail, but he switched to skiing after the move. His friends would say Corey was gone like a rocket when he got on those skis. He was a natural skier—it was no time at all before he was doing really advanced, technical skiing. He was a good snowboarder, but for some reason, when he got on skis, he was able to do so much more. He did summer activities too, like hiking, camping, mountain and road biking, but they were more to pass the time. His real passion was skiing.

Bobbie Gorron: Corey was born in Pueblo, Colorado, but moved to Minnesota with me when he was young. He graduated high school in Minnesota and decided to attend school in Colorado, at Colorado Mountain College, and live with his dad. He eventually decided to take a break from school—I think he was having too much fun. I always thought he would finish school and come back to Minnesota but, when I went out there to visit him and saw Vail, I knew Corey wasn’t coming home. Colorado had become his home.

At the time of the avalanche, Corey was actually enrolled in an avalanche safety course and was supposed to be starting when he got back from Taos. When he told me that he had enrolled, I thought he was planning on becoming a ski patroller, but he said no. He just wanted to be informed. Last fall, for his birthday, he asked for an avalanche beacon to have for a trip to Whistler Blackcomb, so we got him a beacon. When he initially asked for the beacon, I didn’t know what it was. He had to explain its purpose to me. When he was preparing to go to Taos, I asked him if he was going to take it with him and he laughed at me like he was embarrassed that I asked the question. He told me, “No, those are for the backcountry. You don’t use those inbounds!” Unfortunately, he didn’t have his beacon with him when he was caught in the avalanche inbounds at Taos.

Mark: It’s unusual for an avalanche to occur inbounds at a ski resort. The day before the avalanche, Taos ski patrollers had shut down Kachina Peak (where the avalanche occurred) to perform avalanche mitigation—using explosives to blast the area and disrupt weak layers of snow that are more prone to coming loose and sliding in an avalanche. They opened it back up the next day.

I work for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) in Vail. That day, I was in the office when I got a call from one of my boss’ friends, Hattie, through CDOT’s customer service line. She called me crying and said, “Corey was in an avalanche.” She told me that he had been under for a long time. First responders and Taos ski patrol found him and were able to resuscitate him. He was breathing on his own. They called in a Flight for Life helicopter to transport him to the University of New Mexico Hospital. I called Bobbie as soon as I found out. Since Corey was breathing on his own, so we thought he might be okay.

Bobbie: I don’t remember much about that call. I remember my coworkers had to pick me up off the floor. It was all a blur after that. I just got in the car and started driving to the airport. My coworkers booked flights for me and my daughter and we met in Denver. From there, we flew to Albuquerque. I was at the Denver Airport when the hospital contacted me and told me Corey had received a nonrecoverable brain injury, without the chance of survival.

Mark: I couldn’t find any flights from Vail or Denver that were available until the next day, so I was planning to wait and leave the following morning. But when I heard about the severity of the brain injury, I fed the dog, fed the cat, grabbed my toothbrush—I didn’t even grab any clothes. I just grabbed my toothbrush, got in the car, and drove all the way to Albuquerque. I got to the hospital at four o’clock in the morning. Bobbie was there already.

Bobbie: The avalanche occurred on Thursday and Corey was admitted to the hospital on the same day. That first day, the doctors were playing it by ear. They typically wait 24 hours before they review and reassess the state of the head injury. However, because of Corey’s age and how healthy he was, they allowed 48 hours to pass before evaluating. On Sunday, they performed all of the final brain function tests.

During that time, Donor Services came in and asked if we knew that Corey was registered as an organ donor. We didn’t. We had his wallet and it was only when we checked his driver’s license that we found out he was an organ donor.

For me, I was glad Corey made that decision for himself. Being “Mom,” if I hadn’t seen that designation on his license, I probably wouldn’t have allowed him to donate. It makes me feel like a hypocrite because I’m a registered organ donor myself, but to make that decision for your child is completely different. I hate to say that, but I am glad he made that choice for us.

Mark: I was happy that he made the decision to donate too. My vote would have been to donate his organs, but I definitely understand Bobbie’s reluctance. Ultimately, that would have been a decision that Bobbie and I would’ve made together, but I’m glad we didn’t have to.

Bobbie: We had Corey’s funeral at the beginning of February, but Vail’s EpicPromise Foundation and Patagonia put on memorial services for him too. EpicPromise is Vail Resorts’ grant-writing nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to Vail Resorts employees pursuing an educational degree and in personal times of crisis or emergency. They were really involved in Corey’s memorial service. The service was open for everyone in Vail.

Mark: It was amazing. The service took place in a space called the Eagle’s Nest in Lionshead Village. Vail donated the space for the service. We also had a small service on the observation deck area of Mount of the Holy Cross. Corey’s bosses, friends, and acquaintances, as well as Patagonia employees, organized it all. A lot of people said really nice things—it was just so nice that they did all that for Corey.

Bobbie: The things that Patagonia and EpicPromise have done for us are unbelievable. At the Patagonia store in Vail, they wood-burned Corey’s name into one of their Adirondack chairs, along with his birth year and death year. All of his friends got to write something on it too. This month, Zip Adventures, a ziplining company in Vail, is dedicating one of their ziplines to Corey by renaming it after him. How do you thank people for things like that? There just aren’t the right words.

Corey was the first patient at the University of New Mexico Hospital to receive an “Honor Walk.” These honor walks are held by doctors, nurses, and hospital staff to pay respects to patients on life support who are donating their organs to others. Before Corey’s doctors took him off of life support, the hospital held its first ever Honor Walk to honor his ultimate gift of life. Watch Corey’s Walk of Honor here.

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