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Patient Stories

Hit by a Car at 45 MPH

Saved by a Helmet

Peter Chen did everything right.

He left work when it was still light out.

He wore bright clothes.

He had bike lights.

Despite all of these safety precautions, Peter still got hit by a car at 45 miles per hour while riding his bike home from work. The speed limit was 30 miles per hour on the road.

One other thing he did right is what ultimately saved his life: Peter wore a helmet.

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Peter's bicycle and the helmet that saved his life.

The sergeant at the scene said that if I didn’t have my helmet on, I would’ve lost my life,” says Peter.

Peter entered a coma upon impact. He sustained a brain injury, face fractures, broken ribs, a fracture in his lower leg, vertebrae fractures, a neck injury, and multiple breaks in his upper arm that required orthopaedic surgery. He even lost his voice.

“I had to learn how to do everything all over again,” he says. “I had to learn how to swallow and how to go to the bathroom.”

Fortunately, he didn’t have to do this alone.

It Takes a Team

After Peter came out of his coma and his condition was stable, he was transferred to Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine.

A comprehensive rehabilitation team comprised of dedicated physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, nurses and physicians worked tirelessly to help Peter get better.

“I think my team did a fantastic job, and I can’t thank them enough,” he says.

Peter was an inpatient at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital for two weeks. Now, he returns five days a week for outpatient therapy. He considers recovery his full-time job.

“I work as hard as I can today so that I can be better tomorrow,” he says.

Peter’s outpatient rehabilitation involves meeting with physical therapists and occupational therapists so that he can do the things he loves, like riding his bike and spending time with his family.

“Peter is an inspiration, not only to us as his physical therapists and occupational therapists at Marianjoy, but also to the other patients, because of how much he’s progressed,” says Physical Therapist Lauren Rosenberg, PT, DPT. “He went from needing a therapist by his side at all times, to doing his exercises on his own.”

As a longtime bicyclist and one of the original advocates for “Bike to Work Day,” Peter is gearing up to getting back on his bike — and is eager to spread the word to others about the importance of bike safety.

“I can’t downplay the fact that bicycling has inherent dangers. I took all personal precautions and still had an accident,” he says. “Wear a helmet. Mine saved my life.”

Ride With Brain Safety in Mind

Here are bike safety tips from the Northwestern Medicine ThinkFirst Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Prevention Program.

  • Always wear a properly fitted helmet.
    • Choose a helmet that fits snugly.
    • Position the helmet flat on top of the head — no more than two finger-widths above the eyebrows.
    • Straps on each side should form a “V.” The bottom point of the “V” should be right below the ear.
    • Adjust straps so the helmet continues to sit flat on top of the head.
    • After the straps are adjusted and the buckle is fastened under the chin, only one finger should fit between the chin and the strap.
    • When properly adjusted, the helmet should stay on top of the head and not slide around.
    • The chin should be comfortable. If the helmet is adjusted correctly, it will be more comfortable to wear and provide better protection.
  • Look around and listen to your surroundings.
  • Wear bright clothing.
  • Use bicycle lights and reflective gear.
  • Avoid riding at night or in poor weather.
  • Use hand signals.
  • Avoid busy roads.

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