Amy Mack, Trauma Rehabilitation

It may have been the noise of the motorcycles that passed Amy Mack and Kay Barker as they rode their bicycles well within the legal bicycle lane along MN Avenue during the afternoon of April 17, 2005.

Whatever the reason, neither woman heard the mini-van approaching them from behind at 55 miles an hour and that, without warning, hit both of them, sending Amy more than 100 feet in the air and Kay skidding along the road for some distance.

"I have no recollection of being hit," said Amy, a 48-year-old mother of two and a social worker at Western Michigan University. "I know I was awake part of the time at the scene and I remember thinking I couldn't breathe very well and asked someone at the scene for my asthma inhaler."

Amy was riding behind Kay and was the most severely injured. She had a broken leg, broken ribs, broken backbones and damage to brain blood vessels. "I was pretty much a mess," she said.

Kay had a concussion and neck and back injuries as well as major skin damage on her buttocks.

"I came to soon after being hit, although I was in and out of consciousness," Kay said. "I have a full recollection of the scene."

Both were taken by ambulance to Borgess Medical Center. She was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and treated for her multiple injuries. Kay was treated and released later that evening.

Although the injuries were extensive, they were not life-threatening. A few days later Amy was moved from the ICU to a regular room. Several days after she was admitted, however, the head injury triggered a rare condition called syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion, or SIADH. Concentrations of sodium in her blood plunged to dangerously low levels and she lingered close to death.

Specialists at Borgess quickly diagnosed the condition and slowly infused her with sodium and over time she retreated from her highly critical condition.

"I was very fortunate that trauma services picked that up," Amy said. "I was critically ill and couldn't finds words. And I was violently throwing up. I remember that day and it was very frightening."

Amy was in Borgess for 13 days and was then discharged to her rural Richland home. Her neurosurgeon, Dr. Mark Krinock, told her that her backbones were so badly broken that she would have to remain on her back for six weeks. Later, as she healed, Kninock gave her the option of surgery that would include fusing backbones and the implantation of rods in her back for the rest of her life. "I did not want to have surgery," she said. "I wanted to try natural healing."

For the next six weeks she never left her bed, which was in her living room overlooking Gull Lake. "I couldn't watch TV or read, especially early on, since I couldn't concentrate."

Her mother, Helen Bolt, came to Richland from Lapeer and stayed much of the time. "Her being here was a huge part of my recovery," Amy said. "She read to me and I had a lot of visitors. Much of the time, though, I looked out the window at the lake and contemplated life."

And looked forward to the day when she could again ride her beloved bike.

A Richland resident for more than 15 years, Amy has always been active. She played sports in high school and college and enjoyed swimming, running and riding her bike. Well, "enjoyed" may not be the word to describe her running, she said. But she has participated in triathlons, which includes all three sports, and during a typical summer week would ride her bike more than 100 miles, often with Kay and other friends.

She has biked across Iowa several times and ridden in a number of states, and in New York City and Chicago. On the day the two women were hit they were riding to the Soccer Zone in Portage to watch their sons play.

Amy had 24-hour nursing care as well as physical and occupational therapy during her recovery. She was transported to Borgess occasionally for X-ray to see how well her back was healing. She continues to work with “an amazing trainer … who has made an amazing difference in my recovery,” she said.

On her birthday, June 14, 2005, she was allowed to take her first step. "I was delighted, I was ecstatic," she said, "although I'll admit I wasn't sure how it would go."

Initially, she used a walker to get around. She also had a recumbent wheelchair and would spend time outdoors soaking in the summer sunshine. "Being outside was a really important part of my recovery," she said.

"I progressed quickly once I was up. Within a few days I could walk carefully up steps. Still, I had vertigo that lasted a long time and I had to continue to wear the back brace until July."

In the fall, she rode her mountain bike and was able to return to work at WMU for five hours a week. By August 2006 she was back to her full-time schedule of 30 hours a week.

Last summer she participated with thousands of other bikers in the Great Ride Across Iowa. "It is such a fun ride," she said. "One day I rode 70 miles."

Still, the accident remains in the back of her mind. "I do have mixed feelings," she said about biking. "I always knew that you could get hurt riding a bike and now that worry is a reality."

Kay, too, continues to ride and works to keep the worry at bay. "I was a nervous wreck that first summer," she said. "But I try to keep the passion for riding. It's such an incredible way to see the world."

Kay was hit by another vehicle last summer during a ride near Galesburg, although fortunately was not hurt. "It was road rage," she said of the incident. The driver was slowed by a group of riders and apparently became angry, she said. She and a friend were well off the road as the man passed her, honking his car horn and coming as close as he could without hitting her.

"I shouted at him to be careful and he stopped and backed up," she said. "I put up my hand and started to cross in front of his car to talk to him and he took off." His car hit and spun her bike around, although she managed to remain on the bike and upright.

Other riders got the license plate number and the was arrested and pled guilty to felonious assault.

In December 2005 Amy and Kay met with the woman who was driving the mini-van that struck them the previous April. "She had suffered a lot by what had happened," Kay said. "She apologized and I needed to forgive her. From the moment of the accident until that December I was in pain every day. But after that meeting, something was lifted. I had less pain after that. There was a physical and spiritual change that day."

Amy, too, described the session as "a good meeting."

Amy had kept her mangled bike for several months after the accident and finally gave it away to a bike shop where it is displayed as an example of what can happen and the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet.

Today, both women help spread the word about bicycle safety to school children. And they work with the Lindsey Cornelius Foundation in Richland to help provide free bike helmets for children.

Amy said recently that her spine is permanently rearranged because of the accident and she still has back discomfort. She also doesn't have the endurance she once had.

Having been active and in such good shape helped with her recovery. "Being fit gave me a vision of what I wanted to be again," she said. "I did not just want to walk again. I pushed myself and I continue to push myself and I do keep getting better."

She said the care that she got at Borgess was excellent. "I felt like I was surrounded by caring people," she said. "They are so inviting and so friendly. They all go the extra length to help out."