‘My helmet saved my life’

Rangely superintendent recovering from serious bike accident

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Matt Scoggins (left) and his son Patrick were riding bikes together in April when Matt was injured in a crash.

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RANGELY | May is National Bike Month. With bicycle-related deaths peaking in the summer months, and the recent serious bicycle accident Rangely School District Superintendent Matt Scoggins survived, this an ideal time to adopt some proven injury-prevention strategies before sharing the road with motor vehicles.

On April 4, while riding with his son Patrick, Scoggins wrecked his bicycle west of Rangely on Highway 64. He hit his head hard enough on the road that he doesn’t actually recall the accident, a lot of what happened while he was being helped after the accident, or even what he was doing before the accident. The crash left Scoggins with 11 rib fractures, a broken clavicle, three broken vertebrae, a collapsed lung, four stitches in his ear, scrapes and bruises, and a concussion. Most importantly, five breaks to his bike helmet and no fractures to his skull.

“My helmet saved my life,” Scoggins said.

The popularity of bicycling for exercise, recreation, and commuting continues to grow. Unfortunately, injuries and fatalities for all vulnerable road users also are growing. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) finds that adults are more likely than children to die in a bicyclist-motor vehicle crash, with adults accounting for 88% of bicyclist fatalities. One-third of non-fatal bicyclist injuries are to the head. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), a majority of the 80,000 cycling-related head injuries treated in emergency rooms each year are brain injuries.

The GHSA recommends a “Three E” approach — engineering, education, and enforcement — for bicycle safety. An essential component of education is wearing a properly fitted helmet. A bike helmet is a cyclist’s best line of defense, reducing risk of head injury by more than 50%. For severe head injuries, the protective benefit is even higher. Look for helmets that have the date of manufacture. This information will be helpful in case the helmet is recalled; and Say U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)1 certified. That label means that the helmet has been tested for safety and meets the federal safety standard. Some bike helmets may also have a label stating that they are ASTM2, Snell3, or ANSI4 certified. These labels let you know that the helmet has also passed the safety tests of these organizations. It is recommended that a helmet be replaced after one impact and a frequently worn helmet should be replaced every three years due to the foam degradation caused by sun, heat, salty sweat, and other environmental factors, added to the usual knocks of regular cycling activity. 

Until recently, helmet ratings only tested for extreme injuries, like skull fractures, and didn’t assess more common but less-severe impacts that can still result in concussions and other injuries. A new ratings program based on research by Virginia Tech University and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) measures for these more common impacts. Their goal with the ratings is to give cyclists an evidence-based tool for making informed decisions about how to reduce their risk of injury. They also hope manufacturers will use the information to make improvements. Notably, cost is not a good predictor of performance, but helmet style seems to play a role. So-called road helmets, which have an elongated, aerodynamic shape, tend to perform better than round “urban” helmets with fewer vents and thicker shells.

More than half of adults in the U.S. report never wearing a helmet, and more than half of cyclists killed in crashes in 2016 were not wearing one. Thankfully on April 4, Scoggins donned his helmet. He believes he was going about 25 mph at the time of his accident.

“If the fall can do this type of damage to my ribs think what it would have done to my skull if I had not had a helmet on. Yes, it [the helmet], saved my life,” Scoggins reiterated, sharing a picture of his rib X-ray.

“Considering the extent of the injuries, I am doing great,” Scoggins said. “I have an amazing family who have sacrificed their time and effort to help me over the last month. I am eternally grateful for them. I can never thank all those who have reached out to me and my family enough. I am grateful for the text messages, phone calls, cards, and messages with kind and uplifting words. With sleepless nights that had my wife Beth tending to me, the gift cards and meals really made a difference. And the sweets that have come my way have been amazing.”

He would like to thank all the staff at Rangely District Hospital. Though he doesn’t remember, he was told that there were a number of people who stopped and helped while he was lying on the ground, including his son Patrick, Shane Hodges, Audrye Patch, and Shari Saenz but the first person he recalled seeing was Debbie Smith. “That was perfect, as I knew I was in good hands,” he said.

By ROXIE FROMANG | Special to the Herald Times