This is the story of how personal protective gear (PPE) saved my life - LITERALLY. Let me start by introducing myself. My name is SSgt David A. Mace. I am stationed at Aviano AB, IT. I have been active duty in the Air Force for 11 years and ironically enough, I am a 31st FW Safety Technician. My story no matter how crazy it may sound, is true, supported and very heartfelt (No Pun intended).
On June 24th, 2012, my son, best friend, XXX, and I visited a wonderful bike park in Piancavallo, Italy. This park is widely known as The Bike Funk Park. It is visited by professional downhill mountain bike racers from all over the world. I have been riding for a few years and do not consider myself an expert rider but rather an experienced one that knows his way down a hill; however, on that sunny day in June, I made some decisions that would impact my life.
The PPE requirements for this bike park are: a full face helmet, body armor, elbow/forearm guards, knee/shin guards and gloves. I went above the requirements and wore a brand new full faced specialized helmet, Fox Carbon Fiber reinforced gloves, 661 elbow/forearm guards, Fox Racing knee/shin guards, and a spinal cord protector. I let my good buddy, Ray Ross, lead since I had never been down this mountain before.
We all had a great first run!. My friend and I were riding with professionals and taking jumps that sent us airborne for over 30-40 feet. “Wow, what an experience.” I kept looking back to make sure my son was ok. He would go around the big jumps because he had fallen twice on the first run, which made me concerned for his safety. My son is an excellent rider, especially for a 14yr. old.
On our second run down the mountain, I was half way down and looked back to check on my son as I approached a jump way too fast. The speed caused me to over-shoot my intended landing zone which resulted in what would be considered a fatal crash.. Yes that’s right - a “FATAL” crash. I was airlifted off the side of the mountain to Udine hospital and during my flight I died or as they call it “flat lined”. Fortunately, they managed to get me on life support and asked my wife if they could perform a surgery. They told her that if successful, the chance of survival would only be around 1%: and even then I would probably never walk or remember anyone due to my injuries. Fortunately, the surgery was a success and I went into a coma.
My injuries were: Lacerated/dissected aorta artery, both elbows were broken, my left wrists shattered, punctured lung, internal bleeding from my heart, kidney, liver, traumatic brain injury, traumatic spinal cord injury, my whole left side of ribs were broken, multiple lacerations and contusions all over my body, a broken sternum/chest bone. That’s just the stuff I can remember.
Getting back to my story, even though I wasn’t expected to come out of the coma for 4-6 months, I woke up three days later. It was then my rehab began. When the nurses would leave my room at night, I would sneak out of bed and try to relearn how to walk. I also started to move my arms again and regain the ability to use them. The pain was excruciating and borderline unbearable. However, I kept fighting. After a couple weeks of trying to stand and moving around, I stood for the first time and took two steps. From there, I would never except a, “you’ll probably never be able to do this again” statement ever again. Shortly after learning to walk again, I was released from the hospital to recover at home. My rehabilitation began with wrist and elbow range of motion rehab. Basically, this is just a whole bunch of painful stretching of the muscles and ligaments. However, after being released from the hospital, it was then more injuries made themselves known. I kept having pain in my elbows and breastbone. After a quick x-ray, they were all found to have been broken. My left elbow healed great on its own, but my right elbow didn’t heal correctly and required another surgery. After 5 months of painful rehab, I hopped back on my bike and began to ride again.
I had five surgeries and still have one to go that is scheduled for 4 Feb 13 to rebuild my right elbow. However, I am proud to say I have been back to work since the 16th of November (3 weeks before I was supposed to even wake up out of my coma).
Some questions to ponder…:
If I could get a traumatic brain injury even with a top of the line full face helmet, what would have happened if I wasn’t wearing it?
Answer: I have no doubt I would have been dead.
-If I could get a traumatic spinal cord injury with a spine protector on, what do you think would have happened if I wasn’t wearing one?
Answer: I have no doubt my paralysis would have been permanent.
In conclusion, I am walking, talking proof that PPE cansave your life.I can say this without exaggeration, “Trust me I’ve been there and got the proverbial t-shirt”. Take the needed time to assess your risks and make the appropriate decisions.Sometimes the minimum requirements are not the safest and it is imperative that you take all factors into consideration. There is no doubt in my mind that the words “what if” will resonate with me when considering hazards. I hope my testimony resonates with you.
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