- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - It’s probably a good thing, Chad Campbell said, that he doesn’t remember the events of Sept. 2, when he was thrown from his bike, over a guardrail, and a metal fragment rammed through his jaw, lodging in a tooth, and severing part of his tongue.

At home three months later, in a wheelchair, Campbell, 47, spoke hesitantly and still self-consciously of his missing teeth, in his cozy West Asheville house. But it’s not big enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and especially not the bathroom or upstairs. He said he has been “climbing the walls” since the accident that nearly took his life, and has taken away his freedom for the past three months.

Campbell was on a 25-30-mile bicycle ride down Newfound Road when he was struck from behind by a pickup truck going 55 mph. Campbell was thrown onto the pickup’s windshield, then bounced over the guardrail and onto his head.

He said his helmet saved his life. But it’s been a hellish life since then.

The jaw and mouth trauma were just one of Campbell’s massive injuries, including a broken right humerus (upper arm), a broken nose, four badly damaged teeth, a broken cheekbone, a fractured vertebrae, cracked bones near that vertebrae, lower back injuries and the worst - a broken pelvis.

“I also had relatively minor head injuries for as hard as I was hit,” Campbell said. “I had a concussion. I had some bleeding and bruising and swelling. My helmet saved me from major head injuries. I was super lucky.”

He has no memory of the impact, of the week before the accident and two weeks after.

All he knows is from the police report and what doctors, friends and family have told him. He does remember waking up to excruciating pain.

“When I was at Mission, my memory is more like pictures rather than normal memories. I remember my friends visiting me and some of the nurses and Wendy (his ex-wife) and the kids being there,” Campbell said. “My memory didn’t come back until I was in CarePartners two weeks after the accident.”

All Campbell knows is his life before. He grew up in a Detroit suburb, and started racing bicycles at age 16. He road raced for about 10 years with Kinetic Systems Cycling until his children were born. The family moved to Asheville in 2010 for his job with EarthFare.

“I got the bug again. There were a bunch of different riding groups, and the roads were so beautiful and serene here,” Campbell said.

He first rode with the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club’s group rides, and as his fitness improved, he joined the “Bakery Ride,” which left from Fuddruckers in North Asheville and rode to Marshall and back. The ride is often joined by the area’s pro cyclists, including Olympian Brent Bookwalter and members of UnitedHealthCare Pro Cycling.

He was also a member of the Kirbo Cycling Group, which sped around the Mills River area.

“I was pretty picky about when I would choose to ride, usually after work, from 6-8:30, when most people heading home, would be heading against traffic,” he said.

But on the Friday of Labor Day Weekend, he thought traffic would be lighter and rode that morning before work.

On that sunrise morning, his life spun into the Twilight Zone.

Living for family, friends, cycling

He was a CarePartners inpatient in physical therapy, occupational therapy and talk therapy for months, “trying to get my brain and body back to where it was,” he said.

When he was able to return home, life was still a labyrinth of complications. He couldn’t move his upper or lower body well, especially being in a brace to keep his pelvis in place. He couldn’t shower, tie his shoes or brush his teeth.

His mother came from Michigan to help for a while, and then he almost exclusively relied on friends who built him a wheelchair ramp, brought him groceries, drove him to doctor visits, took him out of the house for a beer, and just visited to help keep him sane.

Eric Johnston used to ride with Campbell as part of the Kirbo Cycling Club. He said Campbell was always out front in the pack, clearly visible by his bright clothing, pink socks and pink handlebars.

Johnston was part of a massive fundraising campaign to help Campbell, a divorced father of two teenagers. Campbell worked in bookkeeping at Baldwin Real Estate, where he had no health or disability insurance. He and Wendy bought the children health insurance when they separated.

Friends launched a GoFundMe page and had a special event at the Salvage Station. The Asheville community has raised more than $25,000 so far.

“It speaks to how many lives he’s touched. There were so many nice comments about his helping people and getting to know him, not just in the cycling community, but in the non-cycling community,” said Serena Winburn, a good friend of Campbell‘s.

“It has been wonderful to see him progress,” Johnston said. “He’s certainly determined and has been an inspiration to all of us. I had my doubts (he would ride again) at first. But he’s so darned determined to get back to doing what he loves to do. I don’t have any doubts now. He’s going to be out there riding with us again.”

“I still can’t bear weight on my left leg. I have a bunch of exercises to strengthen the pelvis and muscles in the left leg. When I’m in my chair sitting down, I can lift the leg straight up,” Campbell said. “I have to be really safe and make sure everything is healed in the pelvis.”

His conversation, both in person and on his Facebook page, where he has given steady updates, is anticipating Dec. 9, when he was to be given the surgeon’s OK to stand and walk.

“It’s been really hard especially the last month, not being able to ride, not being able to get out on my own and get outside has been really difficult,” Campbell said. “It’s hard, knowing people are doing rides. I wish I could be out there.”

He said because of the GoFundMe campaign, he hasn’t had to worry about his living expenses. He said he hasn’t heard from the pickup driver, Jerry Plemmons, or followed his court case.

He has, however, followed the news about Anthony Leyva, a 22-year-old from South Asheville who was riding his bicycle home from work the early morning of Nov. 20 when he was hit by the driver of an SUV who left him for dead. The driver, Joseph Tyler Henry, was located in Chattanooga, arrested and charged with felony hit and run, possession of drug paraphernalia and other charges.

Leyva lies in an induced coma with life-threatening injuries at Mission Hospital.

“I want to tell him that he did nothing wrong, and to hang in there and keep fighting,” said Campbell, who has extended an offer to speak to the family.

Campbell has learned to haul himself up his stairs just using his arms, so he can sleep in his own bed instead of on the couch, and somehow manages to keep his house clean and do his own laundry, Winburn said.

“He’s my miracle man. He doesn’t see it that way. He’s very humble,” she said.

“He absolutely has blown all ideas of what I thought healing could be. Part of that was he was in top physical condition before the accident. He has a quiet tenacity. It’s not all rosy. There have been dark days. This will be a longer journey than is ideal, but the way he’s handling it is amazing.”

She said he has kept going for his children, and to ride again. Campbell, through all the cracked and broken bones, insists he feels lucky.

“The first thing I want to do is get out and hike. Then I want to ride again,” Cambell said. “I think a big part of wanting to ride is that I have no memory of the accident. This is the only time in over 30 years of riding I’ve had a major incident, the only time I’ve broken a bone. I still believe cycling is still relatively safe. I can’t imagine not riding.”

In North Carolina, helmets are only required to be worn by ages 16 and younger. Campbell said law or not, he would never ride without a helmet.

“I think you’re crazy not to have a helmet,” he said. “I saw where I took the major impact to the helmet. I would have been killed.”

___

Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, https://www.citizen-times.com


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