A year after awful accident, KHS coach Walters rides again
May. 25, 2017
KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — One year ago Wednesday, Donita Walters was planning on embarking on a cross-country trip on her bike, starting in San Francisco, California.
Walters, who was 47 at the time, was an avid biker, and served as the swim coach for Kokomo High School. Her upcoming ride was to raise money for a veteran's organization. It was a beautiful day, and she wasn't expecting to be spending the following months in a hospital, undergoing extensive physical therapy.
With less than 48 hours to go before leaving for California, Walters was enjoying her last bike ride in Indiana before her long journey. It was around 7 p.m. on May 24, 2016, as Walters was riding her bike down Davis Road. A car passed her on the left.
She doesn't remember all the details, but she does remember the squealing brakes behind her, and feeling an impact.
After the first car passed her, the driver of a truck behind that car noticed Walters too late, hitting her while driving around 60 mph. Walters was found face down in a ditch, 60 feet away from the point of collision.
"I don't remember an ambulance . I remember no sirens," she said.
She was initially flown to St. Vincent Indianapolis. She had a broken pelvis and neck.
She would remain in the St. Vincent system for the entirety of her ongoing recovery. In the past year, Walters has undergone a lot of physical therapy. She's not back to where she was, and there are certain aches, pains and new physical glitches that could be with her for the rest of her life, she noted. But she can get on a bike again.
Monday, on the Nickle Plate Trail, Walters was getting ready for her third bike ride since the accident.
"It's phenomenal," she said. "It's like a dream. It's freedom. Listen to the birds. I love that."
Long before she was ready to start pedaling again, Walters, who lives in Galveston, worked with Sharon Abad, physical therapist at St. Vincent Kokomo Physical and Sports Therapy.
Abad said she started working with Walters in September 2016 and released her in April. In those early days, weeks and months of therapy, Walters said she remembers having trouble with very simple movements. She spent three months with a neck brace on while her neck healed. The brace left her without the ability to turn her head, so she would have to rotate her entire body to look in any direction.
When the brace came off, atrophy had set in in her neck muscles, and she had to undergo manual and "meticulous" therapy. The brace had been holding her head upright, and when the brace was gone, so what that support.
"I don't know what our heads weigh, but I can tell you they weigh a lot," she said, adding that the difficult recovery also was plagued with terrible headaches.
Abad said she started Walters with aquatic therapy, where the water eases the weight put on one's feet. From there, it was a slow transition to land-based therapy.
Normally, Abad said, her patients come in with one area that needs work. That's what set Walters apart. When she first came to Abad, she was in a wheelchair, she said. And the multiple breaks in her pelvis brought about further complications. Because it's connected to legs and the back, those areas then needed work, as well.
Abad said she sets goals with her patients - it's something to keep them motivated.
"'I want to walk without a cane' or 'I want to be walking normally,' - I'd say, OK, but you have to work hard on it, and we'll be here to guide and help you," Abad said.
Walters is goal-oriented herself, and said she would set small goals for herself along the way. But ultimately, she said there was never a time she doubted she would ride again.
Meanwhile, between the three weekly sessions with Abad and her own exercises, Walters took up a new hobby - needle point - to keep her mind busy.
"I'm such a busy, busy body, so that was one of the things they taught me . that you need to pick up something new that you can do," she said.
"It helped me, because when you go from teaching and coaching and cycling and being busy for 15 hours a day, to lying around doing nothing, I had to learn a lot."
Walters' husband, Bill, was along for the whole ride, helping her through the process, and now she believes they are both better for it.
"I think I'm a better person, my husband's a better person. I think as a marriage, it's kind of weird to say, I think our marriage is stronger," said Walters.
"I've tried putting myself in his shoes . I can't imagine getting that phone call."
May is National Bicycle Safety Month, according to the National Safety Council. With that in mind, Walters shared some safety tips for bikers. The most prominent tip she had is to remain visible. She always wears bright clothing - which she affectionately deemed "obnoxious." She even claimed to have been dubbed "the blinking Christmas tree."
Besides the clothes, she wears brightly colored vests, reflectors on her bike and blinkers on her clothing.
"I'm big on bright and how to make ourselves visible," she said.
She also always has identification on her bike that includes her name and emergency information in case of an accident.
Walters also urged motorists to respect bikers' space, and to stay off devices while driving. Those words were echoed by Brian Rody, Team Lead for Security and Safety at St. Vincent.
"There're a lot of distractions. Motorists aren't focused on their driving like they were 10 years ago, 15 years ago. There's cellphone usage, there's a lot more high-tech stuff in your car," said Rody, adding that it takes only a second or two for a biker to be right in front of a driver.
Mitch Donis, Paramedic and EMS Team Lead for St. Vincent, stressed the importance of helmets for bikers, saying that they aren't just for kids, but for adults, too. Bikers are also supposed to drive along with traffic, rather than against it, Donis said. When bike lanes are available, use them, and use them in single file.
For bikers, pay attention to the ground's condition to avoid a fall. Always make sure the bike is well taken care of and in working order.
As for Walters, who just celebrated her 48th birthday, she still wants to ride cross-country. For now, she has a tentative goal of making the trip before she turns 50. Although that goal might not be doable in that relatively short time frame, she's also hoping to be back at school by next fall.
But for now, she's still marveling at what the past year has brought and far she's come.
"It's hard to image that I've done this," she said. "Honestly, God's done this. Because I couldn't' have done it alone. He has worked out every little piece of the puzzle."
Source: KokomoTribune, http://bit.ly/2qWsf5I
Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com