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They'll tell you: Helmets save lives

By STEVE WILSON Executive Editor

A week ago Saturday, nearly 300 bicyclists lined up for the Kiwanis Superman Bike Ride at Fort Massac State Park in Metropolis, Ill.

Riders could select routes of either 10, 38 or 60 miles. Gary Adkisson and his wife, Glenda, chose to take their tandem bike on the longer distance, though they would literally fall about eight miles short.

Gary, who is The Sun's general manager, and Glenda are longtime cyclists who have been riding tandem for the past five years, most recently on a spiffy Co-Motion Parascope Torpedo.

The weather that morning was ideal, and they cruised through the first 50 miles in about three hours. On the outskirts of Metropolis, at about the 52nd mile, they had to make a left turn, which Gary said in hindsight should have been taken more slowly.

Their back wheel slid on some road grit and gravel, and the bike went down hard. Glenda, riding in back, was thrown across the edge of the road and into the grass, scraping her arm and hip, but avoiding more serious injury.

Gary was less fortunate. His right shoulder and the side of his head slammed into the pavement, breaking his collarbone and shoulder blade and cracking three ribs. The side of his helmet was crushed and had pieces of gravel embedded. He has surgery scheduled Monday to repair the collarbone.

Dr. Brian Kern, the orthopedic surgeon who treated him at Baptist Health Hospital, said the fall was unusually severe.

"Collarbone fractures aren't all that uncommon in bike accidents, but his broken scapula (shoulder blade) speaks to the high level of trauma," he said. "The scapula is deep and surrounded by a thick muscular envelope. A break takes a lot of force."

Gary feels lucky the outcome wasn't worse.

"The helmet may have saved my life," he said.

An even more harrowing bike accident last summer sent Dr. Jay Pitman to the hospital.

Pitman, a Paducah anesthesiologist and triathlete, was found unconscious lying in a pool of blood after his bike was struck by a hit-and-run driver on a single-lane road in Noble Park. His injuries included a concussion, brain hemorrhage, broken shoulder and severe facial lacerations.

William Hayes, the 18-year-old driver of the car that hit him, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being found guilty on three felony charges.

Pitman's wounds have healed, and he is training for a half-ironman triathlon later this summer in Sandusky, Ohio.

"I really don't remember the accident, but there's no question the helmet saved my life," he said.

Despite these two and many other accidents where helmets made a life or death difference, no states have adult helmet laws, and only 17 (not including Kentucky or Illinois) require children to wear them.

One person I thought might want a helmet law is Martha Emmons, co-owner of Bike World in Paducah. She's a strong advocate of helmets and her store would stand to sell more. Still, she's not in favor of one.

"Helmets don't prevent accidents, just as seat belts don't prevent car crashes. But in both instances, they greatly increase your chances of walking away. We require helmets on all rides we sponsor, and Hutch (her husband) and I wear them religiously," she said.

"But I don't support legislation to make bike helmets mandatory. I think our biggest challenge is to do anything that gets kids more active and raises their heart rates. I'm against anything that's a barrier to more kids riding, and a helmet law - the cost mostly - would reduce the number of kids who ride. And regulation would be hard. Would we really want police spending their time giving kids citations?"

She makes a good case, though I take no issue with the states that have juvenile helmet laws. Kids are so much more accident prone and less likely to think about the risk.

It shouldn't require a law, however, for people to show common sense and wear a helmet, any more than it should take a law for people to look both ways before crossing a busy street or to wear a coat when it's 10 degrees outside.

Few of us think the next time we get on a bike, a life-altering or even a life-ending event could be just around the corner. But it absolutely could. I know a couple of experienced riders who are glad to be still breathing and will vouch for that.

Steve Wilson is executive editor of The Paducah Sun. You can reach him at

swilson@paducahsun.com.

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