Monday morning of the 2021 October long weekend in the Hunter Valley was cool and windy, conditions that David Gatwood and his cycling companions relished.
Cool mornings made David’s regular ride all the more enjoyable, so it was easy convincing fellow riders Steve Wright and father and daughter Paul and Charlotte Heaton to join him on a ride along Middlebrook Rd near Scone.
The 40km round trip had gone well, making good time in the cool conditions and after a brief drink stop, they continued on the return leg to Scone.
Soon after, David hit a cattle grid at approximately 35km/h and was catapulted into the air. His recollection of the accident was a loud bang, he described as ‘akin to a head on collision and I realised afterwards it was the sound of my helmet hitting the road.’
David didn’t lose consciousness, something he attributes to his helmet, a testament to cyclists of all ages that a helmet is a lifesaver and dispensing with it as being ‘uncool’ is potentially a life and death decision.
Still clipped into his pedals, he lay winded on the road. He remembers being unable to move, and for a moment, staring at the cloudless sky thinking how peaceful it was but struggling to breathe, he began to panic.
His fellow riders stopped, returning to David who was gasping for air tangled in his bike on the road. As Paul Heaton knelt at his mate’s side, David grasped the gravity of the situation – Paul’s ashen expression couldn’t hide the seriousness of David’s situation.
Paul tried calming his friend best he could, telling him not to move, carefully removing his helmet and cradling his head whilst Steve called 000.
Local NSW Ambulance Paramedics arrived on scene and David remembers Mel and Ben were amazing.
‘I knew I was in a bad way, as I could hear the urgency in their voices as they called for the Rescue Helicopter but they were so calming and reassured me as they knelt by my side that I would be alright and that the Rescue Helicopter was on its way.’
David said hearing the helicopter approaching gave him a massive sense of relief as Ben and Mel were soon joined by the Helicopter’s Medical Team.
‘Having them arrive relieved so much stress. I remember thinking I was in the best care possible and that was the reassurance I needed to just let them do what they had to do.’
David was treated, stabilised and airlifted to John Hunter Hospital where the surgeon recommended urgent spinal surgery to stabilise his fractured back.
“Having them arrive lifted so much stressfrom me at the time. I remember thinking I was in the best care possible”
‘I spent 8 nights in the trauma ward where I quickly realised that there are people much worse off than me,’ he said.
‘I wore a neck brace for 6 weeks but have a lasting legacy of the incident with two titanium rods and a series of screws in my back.’
His long road to recovery didn’t go smoothly, readmitted to hospital for an infection but he continues to make positive progress and is hopeful his ‘hardware’ can be removed later this year.
‘Takeaways from my accident are simple. If you ride a bike, wear a helmet and if you can help the Rescue Helicopter through donating, be it large or small, supporting an event or through workplace giving, do it. We are so fortunate to have such a vital service available to us.’