"Look Dad... No helmet"

  • Published
  • By Col. Lorn Heyne
  • 65th Medical Group commander
Finally, the sky is starting to clear up, the wind is dying down and it's time to break out the bicycles for the summer. The nice weather got me thinking about a personal situation and a conversation that many families may have when it comes to summer recreation and activities.

"Dad, did you wear a helmet when you were a little boy?"

"No, Son I did not," said the father.

"Then why do I have to, Dad?"

Does this conversation sound familiar? That wasn't quite how it went in my family. Although I didn't wear a helmet when I was a kid, I wanted to be a good example for my son. When we went bicycling together, we just put the helmet on and rode off, no questions asked.

Of course, wearing a helmet does not mean that a person will not get injured. In fact, the person whose neck you see in the picture was wearing a helmet. How do I know? Because that picture is of my neck.

On December 4, 1998, it was unusual to have such a beautiful morning so late into the fall with temperatures well above 60 degrees. My son, Austin, and I wanted to ride our bikes that morning, so we put on our helmets and headed off. I was riding with Austin, who was 8 years old at the time, along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., when I decided to ride down the embankment. What I could not see at the bottom was a 6 inch drop onto the pavement. When the front tire dropped, the bicycle flipped completely over, landing me on my head against the pavement with the bicycle landing on top of me. My left arm was totally paralyzed and my face had several abrasions. Surgery followed to relieve the pressure on the nerve to my arm and a metal plate was inserted to stabilize my neck.

One of the studies I have read stated that children under 10 years old were more likely to sustain injuries to the head and face during their teen years, and young adults were more likely to sustain injuries to the extremities. And while there are exceptions to every statistic (I was an adult rider), the fact remains that accidents happen and the outcome can range from scratched knees to major surgery.

So what does this have to do with a helmet? What I didn't describe above was that when the bicycle flipped over and I landed squarely on my head, there were several small rocks, about one-quarter inch in diameter, that penetrated the shell of the helmet. If by chance I had not been wearing the helmet, the blow to my head would have been much worse, the rocks would most likely have penetrated my cranium and complicated my injuries and the outcome would surely have been much more severe.

There are many things that I cannot do today due to this accident but frankly I am alive and have a fairly normal life. I always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle and will stop kids on the street to ask that they put a helmet on or fasten the strap.

As we continue into the 101 Critical Days of Summer, I would just like to foot-stomp that wearing a helmet is a small but effective item in our personal protection equipment wardrobe. Our children are our future; let's protect our investment.