Here’s What Happened. . . .

Yesterday I received a call from a surgeon friend who had called to discuss some of my medical questions regarding my bike accident on July 30. He asked a question that many people have been asking over the course of the last week and a half: “We know you’re hurt, but what happened?” Now that I’m up, in front of the laptop and able to type, I thought I’d give you the Reader’s Digest condensed version of what is a very long and twist-filled story.

Friday July 30th was my 54th birthday. I started my day with some writing (got to hit the deadlines!). While writing, I was already getting excited about getting outside and on my bike. My bike is not a motorcycle as some have thought, but a bicycle. . . a road bike to be specific. Bicycling the roads here in Lancaster County has been an awesome form of relaxation and exercise for me over the course of the last four years. This summer, I’ve been riding anywhere from 22 to 30 miles a day, six days a week. A few weeks ago, I informed our CPYU staff that I would like to do a 100 mile solo ride to raise the remaining amount of money needed ($10,000) to purchase and setup a new computer server at the office (long overdue) along with some new presentation laptops (long overdue as well). I had just decided that the 100 mile ride would take place in the last week of August. Then, since it was my birthday and a beautiful day, I said to myself, “Why not ride 54 miles on your 54th birthday?” figuring it would be a nice way to train for the ride at the end of August.

After hopping on my bike I stopped at the CPYU office to let Lisa know that my ride today was going to be a long one. I always give her an estimate of my time away, even though she can contact me by cellphone. She made sure I had my red Road ID strapped to my wrist and she sent me off. I texted my good buddy Andy Brazelton over at Simply Youth Ministry to inform him of my plans. Andy’s into cycling as well, and he thinks he’s pretty tough since he once fell off his bike and wound up with a nice case of road rash on his hip. I always want Andy to know that I’m just as tough as he is even though he’s young enough to be my son, so I was sure to let him know about my 54 mile birthday plans.

Initially, my ride took me through some very familiar roads here in Lancaster. In order to stretch out my ride so that I could get the needed mileage, I decided to ride on the road that parallels the Susquehanna River, goes past Three Mile Island, and then heads through Middletown and past the Harrisburg International Airport. This is a road that I’ve never biked and one that I’ve driven only a handful of times.

After a stop in Middletown to pick up a Gatorade and a snack at a local quick-mart, I hopped back on my bike and quickly hit the 30 mile mark. While I remember everything that happened during and after the spill, I’m not sure what it was that distracted me as I picked up the pace to about 20mph to pass through a busy intersection. Usually very cautious, observant, and careful, I didn’t see the railroad track embedded in the concrete road until my front tire had twisted into it and my bike had come to a sudden halt. I was thrown over the handlebars, hitting my left shoulder and side and then landing on my back. I immediately knew I was in big trouble from the pain and from my inability to draw a breath in. I was screaming loudly but still heard the screams and shouts of people stopping and running over to help. The next who knows how many minutes spent on the hot road were excruciating, but by the grace of God I was able to keep my thoughts rational while screaming out in pain. I was able to think through who needed to be contacted and which hospital I needed to be taken to. Within a matter of seconds, I heard two female voices screaming at everyone else to get out of the way as they were EMT’s who “just happened” to be passing by. One stabilized my head and neck (yes, I was wearing a helmet and it was still on) while the other went to work on holding me still as I was squirming around quite a bit even though I couldn’t get off my back. Several other people started making phone calls while talking to me to keep me alert. After a black-out (not sure how long) due to the shock, I came to and heard the police sirens. Eventually, the ambulance arrived, I was stabilized, rolled onto a back board (ouch!), and rushed to the Hershey Medical Center. Lots of stuff happened during this entire process that was pretty amazing and that I might relay to you all later.

I was taken into a Level 1 trauma room where a large team started yelling and doing all sorts of things (including cutting off all my clothes. . . my expensive biking shorts – ouch again)to assess my condition. I quickly learned that my injuries were extensive – 8 broken ribs (each fractured in multiple places), a broken Scapula, a broken collarbone, a punctured lung, abrasions, and extensive bruising down my left side. I spent the night in ICU being comforted by a great family, a great hospital staff, and some powerful anti-pain drugs. The next 8 days were spent in the hospital trying to get well enough to get home in time for my son Josh’s wedding on Saturday, August 7. When all was said and done, I made it home in time and I was able to stay through the reception and even muster up enough strength to walk in with the mother of the groom (thank you PT department for pushing me to get walking).

I’m now at home, sleeping in a hospital bed on the first floor, and beginning the long process (8-12 weeks) of healing, therapy, and recovery. The pain was intense, is still significant, but is being managed. The swelling and disfigurement on my left side is also still there.

There’s so much more to tell you about but I will do that at a later time. For now, let me simply say that even in the midst of that initial feeling of being catapulted into a concrete wall, God’s peace and presence have been incredibly real. We know that this is all in God’s great plan for our lives and we will do what we have to do while learning what He has in store for us to learn.

So far, the prayers of so many hundreds if not thousands of people, the cards I’ve received, and the constant flow of visitors has been a major boost. Our spirits are good. I can get comfortable. I know I’m going to get through this. My wife, Lisa, has been absolutely amazing. The week before her first child gets married she was spending 13 hours a day with me at the hospital.

I would ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers. My buddy over at Youth Specialties, Adam McClane, posted a very touching blog last week. I would urge you to give it a read as he summarizes well how you can pray for us during this time. It’s been difficult, yes, but it’s also been exciting. Anticipating what the Lord has in store for me is an exciting place to be. In addition, I’m grateful for the fact that my face, head, neck, spine, arms, and legs came through strong, even though my left arm will be in a sling for quite some time. Pray too that my body would heal. None of the fractures can be set or surgically repaired. They simply have to heal. Thank God, as well, for the amazing complexity and design of the body He designed. It blows me away to think that this will heal.

Finally, if you’re in the neighborhood, visitors are fine. I don’t look like I’m knocking on death’s door and my sense-of-humor has remained intact. . . it just hurts like crazy to laugh!

Thanks for caring. There were many people in similar situations in my hospital wing whose phones were silent and whose rooms were empty during visiting hours. I was sad for them. This, however, wasn’t the case for me. Again, I was blown away.

May God and God alone be glorified through what has happened and what lies ahead.

By the way, at 2:04pm on the day of my ride (about the time the accident occured), Brazelton texted me to say “How are you doing?” Andy, I’ll be fine. . . and I’m still tougher than you!

12 thoughts on “Here’s What Happened. . . .

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Walt. The morning of your son’s wedding, I actually did something very similar (without the accident, thank the Lord): 46 miles on my 46th birthday.

    Great to hear that you’re recovering and still doing the work of serving Him.

    Brock Griffin – NCF /

  2. so now does this mean you’ll be doing your 100 mile ride from one of those lark or hoveround motorized chairs?

    i would probably donate more to see that!

  3. WOW Walt!! Bro, I am so sorry to hear this news & to hear about all of the extensive injuries!! I am thankful it happened at home, near your family & for the great medical care at Hershey Med. Center. Love you Bro – glad you are mending – & grateful you will make a full recovery!
    P.S. – my motorcycle tire would not have any problem with the railroad track 🙂 (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

  4. Walt, you are amazing. My dad went through similar injuries not too long ago from falling from a tree, so I know the rib injuries have got to hurt! You have such a great perspective. I love that you marvel about the body and its ability to heal. Others would be complaining and having a pity party; you see everything as an opportunity for ministry and growth and an expectation to see what God is “up to”. I love it. Keep it coming, but try not to get hurt next time.

  5. So Brazelton texted you right as you fell? Oh the dangers of texting and riding. I think I would blame HIM for this whole thing.

    Anyway, God be with you and your recovery!!

  6. Walt, from all of us who have been reading everything you send us for so long now, this is where you rest and read what we send to you! Your work is always appreciated, but now even more the character that you have shared with us about who you are as a person, a husband and a dad is our influence. I’m sure you will be back on that bike someday, but for now let the prayers, the care and the love of so many keep you and heal you! Peace, Karen

  7. Walt,
    Glad to hear you are on the road to recovery; we’ve been praying for you at our church through our prayer chain. I did hear about the accident through a CPYU bulletin and tried to visit while you were in the hospital but the “pastor” card did not work. We continue to keep you and your family in our prayers… can we bring you all a meal someday next week, or is there something else we can help you with as you rest and recover? Let me know… we neighbors and co-laborers in the Lord! We stand ready to help in any way you need. I will try to stop by for a visit later in the month. Peace and healing to you my friend,
    Tim Bistline

  8. Hang in there Walt. I’ve broken ribs (no where as badly as yours but still) and know now much that hurts. Laughing hurts and sneezing will make you contemplate death, lol!

    I’m 52 and still biking. I worry about just this kind of thing every day I’m out there. Tomorrow I’m scheduled to ride into work (about 22 miles). You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.

    Hang in and heal up brother.

    Jay Phillippi

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