What happens when a cyclist hits a pedestrian

by Donna Fleming / 26 February, 2018

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Ophelia Sykes the day before being hit by a cyclist. Photo/Fleming family

Cyclists may be at the mercy of motorists, but they’re capable of inflicting harm themselves as Ophelia Sykes' story shows. 

Roads can be dangerous places for bikes, so I understand why some cyclists ride on footpaths. But that has its own dangers, as my daughter discovered last April.

After a family holiday, Ophelia Sykes (then 14) was helping to unload a campervan parked on the road outside our house when she walked on to the footpath from our driveway and was hit by a cyclist. He was riding fast downhill on the path and struck her with such force that she was thrown 3m into the road, smacking her head on the asphalt.

A car was travelling towards her, but fortunately the driver stopped before he hit her as she lay on the road. I can’t bear to think what the outcome would have been if the accident had happened just a couple of seconds later. She wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Terrified that she was going to be run over, Ophelia managed to get herself up and onto the footpath. Along with a bang on the head, she had extensive bruising, grazes and cuts. Miraculously, there were no broken bones.

The cyclist did not come out of it unscathed. A large man who looked to be in his early twenties, he flew headfirst over the handlebars, and as he wasn’t wearing a helmet, chances are he also got an almighty whack on the head. He was bleeding from grazes on his arms and legs and was obviously in great pain; he was crying, unlike my daughter, who was too shocked to cry until later.

The cyclist apologised profusely and refused my offer to come inside the house for medical attention. He got on his bike and rode away, still on the footpath. My husband and I were too busy seeing to Ophelia to think about getting any details from him.

After the accident. Photo/Fleming family

I took her to an emergency doctor, who said her injuries didn’t appear to be too serious but to wake her up several times in the night to check she was coherent, in case she was concussed. She was with it enough when I asked her at 2am who the US president was to tell me “Mr Cheeto Head”.

But the next morning, Ophelia was so drowsy she couldn’t keep her eyes open for more than a few seconds or get out of bed. She also had an excruciating headache. Our GP diagnosed concussion and referred her to the ACC-funded concussion clinic run by Axis Sports Medicine.

As a result of her head injury, she had ongoing headaches, balance difficulties that hindered her ability to dance (at the time she was doing ballet, jazz and contemporary dance) and trouble concentrating at school.

Her vision was also affected – she had trouble tracking moving objects and went from wearing glasses for reading and classroom work to needing them nearly full-time.

We were worried that the effects of the head injury would be permanent, but thanks to time and excellent care over several months from Dr Stephen Kara and the team at the concussion clinic, she is just about back to normal, apart from her eyesight. She says it is still worse than it was before the accident.

We feel very lucky that Ophelia did not have any serious ongoing injuries. There has been a psychological effect – it dented her confidence and has made her more cautious and fearful of terrible things happening out of the blue. She never walks out of our driveway on to the footpath without stopping to check if a bike is coming, and neither do I.

I sometimes think about the cyclist who hit her and wonder if he’s had any problems as a result of his injuries. I hope not.

I also hope that he learnt from what happened and no longer rides on footpaths – a lesson other cyclists may heed without having to hurt anyone else in the process.

Donna Fleming is a former Listener Health columnist and current contributor.

This article was first published in the February 24, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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