Biking down the White Pine Path north of Cedar Springs, Michigan, on a cold afternoon in April 2022, Dave Medema didn’t discover the big department sagging over the asphalt path.
“Possibly the tree had simply blended into the wooded background alongside the path,” he stated.
“I didn’t see it till the final second.”
With no time to swerve, Medema hit the brakes—laborious.
He flew over his handlebars and landed on the pavement, head first.
The subsequent factor he remembers is a person kneeling beside him, assessing his situation.
“I stated, ‘Simply give me a pair minutes. I’ll be tremendous. I’ll be capable to get on my bike and journey dwelling,’” stated Medema, 69, a lifelong bicycle owner who lives exterior Rockford, Michigan.
“He kindly requested me, ‘Effectively, who’s the president?’ And I couldn’t title him. … So I assumed, ‘Oh, this isn’t good.’”
Stage 1 trauma
The nice Samaritan, a motorist named Will who occurred to witness the accident, had pulled his car over and dashed by way of the ravine between the highway and the path to offer help.
He known as 911 and Medema’s spouse, Fenna Diephuis.
First responders quickly arrived.
After immobilizing his neck with a tough collar, the EMTs transported Medema to Corewell Health’s Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, the area’s Level 1 Trauma Center.
“He was a degree one trauma, which signifies that we mobilize all of our staff,” stated Cathryn Chadwick, MD, a important care surgeon on responsibility the day of Medema’s crash.
“We get the trauma surgeon, our residents, radiology, the ER docs—all people is within the trauma bay ready for this affected person to reach in order that we will rapidly stabilize him … and get him rapidly imaged after which as much as the ICU.”
CT scans and a subsequent MRI confirmed extreme compression of Medema’s cervical backbone. The damage had triggered paralysis from the neck down. His mind perform, nonetheless, remained sound—he escaped with solely a concussion.
Medema has his helmet to thank for that.
“I had a helmet on, and that saved my life,” he stated.
“So if you happen to do one factor on this article, put in daring font, massive font, purple font, underlined, italicized: At all times put on a helmet.”
Spinal surgical procedure
Diephuis, already in Grand Rapids working an errand on the time of her husband’s accident, beat the ambulance to the hospital and sat in an ER lounge, awaiting information.
She was allowed to peek in on him briefly, however the full report got here later, at his bedside within the ICU.
Dr. Chadwick had already consulted with the on-call spinal surgeon when she delivered the medical staff’s evaluation—that to take away the broken disks in Medema’s neck and stabilize his cervical backbone, he would wish a spinal fusion surgical procedure the subsequent morning.
This is able to relieve the stress on his spinal wire, giving the nerves the possibility to regenerate over time.
“We all know that if we preserve folks at a standard coronary heart fee and blood stress, they’ve higher outcomes—and particularly with these spinal wire accidents, they get higher perfusion to their spinal wire and subsequently a greater end result,” Dr. Chadwick stated.
Precisely what that end result would appear like for Medema, nobody might say. He had good well being in his favor, however nerves regenerate extra slowly in folks his age.
In speaking with the couple, Dr. Chadwick tried to strike a stability between optimism and realism.
“I used to be in a position to assist them get to that time the place they had been like, ‘My life isn’t over’ … and get by way of these first levels and days the place issues really feel fully uncontrolled.”
Dr. Chadwick’s readability, confidence and compassion resonated.
Taking her phrases to coronary heart, Medema and Diephuis labored laborious throughout these early hours and days to course of their ideas and feelings.
“Our plans for retirement simply took a 180-degree flip, you understand?” Medema, a self-employed administration marketing consultant and coach, stated.
“However I knew that if I went into sufferer mode, or if I went, ‘Why, God, why? Why me?’ … then I’m going to have a depressing life.”
So he set two targets, then and there: to “observe radical acceptance” of his circumstances and to get again on the White Pine Path on an electric-assist tricycle.
“I informed Fenna straight away, and I informed my bike buddies. I stated, ‘I’ll be again on the market with you guys. It’s gonna be on an e-trike.’”
For her half, Diephuis took the recommendation of a hospital chaplain and arrange a CaringBridge page to maintain household and mates up to date on Medema’s standing.
“I blogged each day. I’d come dwelling, and it was my manner of unwinding earlier than I went to mattress,” she stated. “It was such remedy for me to do this.”
Rehab and restoration
Medema’s spinal surgical procedure went easily.
The subsequent day, the Corewell Well being bodily and occupational remedy staff assessed his core and extremity energy in preparation for a transfer to inpatient rehab. Pushing by way of the ache, Medema labored together with his therapists to sit down up along side the mattress and to start some preliminary workout routines.
His discharge to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital got here only a day later.
On his manner out, Dr. Chadwick requested him for a favor: Come again and see us sometime.
“I see sufferers in essentially the most acute section of their damage, however I not often get to see after they have recovered and the way effectively they’re doing and the way a lot perform they’ve gotten again,” she stated.
“I not often get to see the post-trauma stuff.”
Medema and Diephuis remembered the request.
Ten months later, they organized a return journey to Butterworth Hospital.
Bearing baggage of treats, they met up with Dr. Chadwick and several other ER, ICU and Multidisciplinary Trauma Clinic staff members to specific their deep gratitude for the world-class care they acquired.
However this reunion might occur solely after months of sluggish, regular, excruciating work—bodily and occupational remedy that continues in some type to at the present time.
First, Medema accomplished seven weeks of intensive rehabilitation at Mary Free Mattress, the place aides had him standing up by day two—by no means thoughts that he couldn’t really feel his toes.
Inside 4 weeks, a bodily therapist—himself a hard-core bicycle owner—bought Medema using a trike contained in the constructing.
By six weeks post-crash, he might stand, pivot and stroll with a walker.
After his June 6 discharge, Diephuis, a medical therapeutic massage therapist, grew to become her husband’s full-time caregiver.
Medema started working with a staff of outpatient bodily therapists to rebuild muscle mass and mobilize his shoulders, arms, arms, legs and toes.
“Quite a lot of my physique bought shut down from the crash,” he stated. “The trauma not solely broken my spinal wire and the nerve endings, however then my physique doesn’t know tips on how to transfer.”
Life now entails a cycle of working and ready—working the muscle mass and ready for the nerves to heal and get up.
“What I can management is doing workout routines to regain muscle mass and mobility,” he stated. “Nerves? Nothing I can actually do about that, aside from do the workout routines and have good diet.”
To advertise therapeutic, Medema additionally receives acupressure therapies and different holistic therapies.
The progress he’s made in a 12 months’s time has been outstanding, and he’s hopeful he can regain full performance.
He now walks with no walker, as much as a mile at a time.
Practically each morning, he spends an hour or two within the improvised dwelling rehab fitness center in his basement, engaged on stretching, energy coaching, stability and range-of-motion workout routines, all with tools Diephuis rigged up for him.
4,000 miles to go
Final September, simply 5 months after the accident, Medema took to the path once more on a bright-orange custom-built electrical tricycle.
His bodily therapist from Mary Free Mattress helped design the specs; his using buddies helped increase the funds to purchase the Bluetooth-enabled three-wheeler from TerraTrike, a neighborhood producer.
Earlier than winter, Medema had already logged 300 miles.
His lifetime purpose of biking 100,000 miles stays in his sights.
“I’m at 96,000 proper now—lifetime miles. I wager I’ll be there in two years,” he stated.
He goals of ending a Lake Michigan loop journey he began with a buddy a pair years in the past, and of biking the 45 miles to Spring Lake, Michigan, to go path using together with his grandkids.
At present, a 12 months after the crash, Medema displays on his circumstances with each grief and gratitude.
“My grief about what I’ve misplaced, bodily and all the pieces, it’s there. My feelings are nonetheless fairly uncooked,” he stated. “I’m going by way of the grief.”
But, on the identical time, he celebrates his renewed energy and marvels at how far he’s come: “Manner farther than anyone thought I’d.”