Monday, December 21, 2009

Safety Moment : Crashing & Breaking Your C1 Vertebra

When I hear of amazing tales of bicycling injuries and recoveries, I always think 'wow, do some folks have a disproportionate amount of lucky stars stashed somewhere in their basement?' Maybe that's why I don't have so much luck. Could others may have more than me?'

Lucky stars it is as today's mind blowing story comes all the way from Florida.

Sandy Scott is a champion Master racer from Florida and well known in cycling circles. He's an aeronautical engineer by schooling and worked as an airline pilot for many years. He also had a stand as a motorcycle cop for a period of time. Today in retired life, his interests are varied from tattoo modeling, to fishing, or from photography to writing for the Florida Racing Magazine. Somewhere along in there, he also manages devote a serious amount of time to training in order to win local bike races.

In Oct 2005, Sandy was racing toward his goal of winning the Florida Senior Games time trials when he was involved in a horrible accident. Keep in mind that time trial bikes are not designed to be very maneuverable. To avoid a person who stepped in front of his bike during the 10K time trial, he swerved suddenly, sending him flying over the handlebars and landing headfirst on the pavement.

Post crash, one witness told him that his rear disk wheel had gone completely airborne after he swerved. Another remarked that his front wheel had been turned 90 degrees to the path of the bike before he went flying over the bars. Whatever it was that caused the crash, Sandy recalls that the one thing that probably saved his life was his Louis Garneau helmet, that split right from the top.

After the incident, he temporarily lost his memory and didn't even remember racing his bike. Two days after he was admitted to hospital, an orthopedic spine surgeon took a look at his CT scans and MRIs and admitted with difficulty that he had one of the rarest and most fatal of all neck fractures - a C1 breakage. This is a type of injury where many residual deaths occur even after treatment because the breathing pipe work is usually situated around the fracture area and victims are often found unable to breathe a little too late.

Anyway, the surgeon told him that their options would be to try and fuse the C1 to the base of the skull or fuse it to the C2 vertebra. Sandy mulled it over. The outcome of the operation would be that he would lose 50% of his neck mobility. He wasn't ready to compromise something like that for bike racing. He chose not to have surgery!! But the resilience of the human body was somehow with him after that ballsy decision. 9 months later, a CAT scan revealed that the 2mm gap in his C1 fracture had somehow miraculously healed!

Now, 18 months later, the 66-year-old has made a tremendous comeback. In December of 2009, he came back and won the Florida State 20K Road Race Championship. He now rides his bike 20 hours a week, trains in the gym and still kicks butt at the local circuit.

Here's a snippet of Sandy's mail to me. He describes a little of his treatment process for those who are interested in the medical tidbits of such cases :
"They immediately fitted me with a hard brace which I wore for the next 5 months. I started immediately training 70 minutes a day on my trainer. I wanted to win a state championship and I was not about to lose my conditioning over even a broken neck. Ultimately, it was thought that the fracture was going to be a non union and the physician released me with the admonition that if I fell, I could die. I still rode with the fastest group in town with a fractured neck and one day an accident happened in front of me where a bike came flying through the air towards me, and I thought, "Oh, no, this is it." It hit me hard on the leg and opened a deep cut. I managed to stay upright.

It ultimately healed in 9 months, and I commenced regular physical therapy to regain my mobility. 14 hours total. In the piece that I sent you I relate meeting of a local chiropractor on the road who knew my story and told me he could help me. At that point, I could not ride my time trial bicycle in that I could not lift my head high enough to see where I was going. Two day a week treatments for a couple of months allowed me to finally be able to ride that TT bike, and months later, I was riding it almost comfortably.

My case was so unique that Dr. Weinstein, the spinal surgeon I found when I refused to have my neck fused as recommended by my first physician, presented my case to a large group of Orthopedic & Neuro Surgeons and Radiologists. My physical therapist thought the case was so amazing, she presented my case at a big convention of physical therapists in Las Vegas. Many of these people have never even seen a C1 fracture in their practices."

Wanting to tell about his injury and how he recovered, trained and won 13 races after his comeback, he co-authored a book titled "From Broken Neck To Broken Records". For those of you in his age category and anyone looking for motivation, the book will be an inspiring read.

Additionally, there is a radio interview at Growing Bolder. The hosts discuss with him about his long road to recovery, including his controversial decision to forgo surgery.

Its an honest and revealing talk from someone who probably wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for some serious luck, some great doctors, and a no-questions-asked winning mindset. And according to his own admission, he probably wouldn't have that mindset if it weren't for the helmet he wore. Little things add up and make a huge difference.

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1 comment:

Ron said...

As of August 2019, Sandy informed his fans on social media that he's going in for a mandibulectomy to try and treat an oral cancer. Follow him on Facebook.