Bike helmet saves New Haven cyclist's life


NEW HAVEN RESIDENT Linda Sweeney, shown this past December with stuffed animals she made out of her late husband’s clothing, recently suffered injuries in a bike accident. She said the helmet she was wearing saved her life. Independent file photo/John S. McCright

NEW HAVEN — Two weeks ago a bicycle helmet saved Linda Sweeney’s life.

“I am here to BEG anyone that rides a bike to wear a helmet,” she said in a Facebook post last week, which she shared with the Independent. “It matters!!!”

On July 29, the New Haven resident crashed on her bicycle somewhere near Twin Mountain in Carroll, N.H.

“I’m not sure what happened,” said the post, which Sweeney had dictated to a friend. “I apparently hit railroad tracks traveling fast and went down. I was out for at least 20 minutes and a kind passerby called 911.”

Sweeney was transported to Littleton Regional Healthcare — where she learned from an emergency room physician that the helmet had saved her life — and then transferred to the trauma unit at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

She had broken all the major bones on the left side of her face, and some smaller ones, too.

Her daughter Ashley Paquette described her own experience in a separate Facebook post, which Sweeney shared with the Independent.

“This past week has been startling to the core,” Paquette wrote. “I rode in a car for almost four hours ... not knowing the condition my mother would be in....” When she arrived, Paquette found her mother “beat up” but “blessed.”

At Dartmouth, Sweeney was kept in a dark room, where she nursed a concussion, suffered from occasional vertigo and waited for the swelling to go down, so doctors could make a final decision about whether or not she would need surgery.

After five days, she was released to her children’s care, she told the Independent in an email.

For now, “bed, dark room, limited screen time,” she explained. “I may proceed as my body allows but when headaches and vertigo hit I go back to a dark quiet room, where I spend many hours a day. I have been able to open curtains and go outside for a while each day. My friend came over yesterday and we stayed sitting on the front porch for over an hour. With sunglasses on, of course.”

Most of her written communication has been accomplished through voice input or dictation, she said.

Sweeney has been an avid cyclist for many years.

In 2013, the Independent profiled her as she prepared for a 100-mile ride around Lake Tahoe to help raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Now, after her recent crash, Sweeney has a new mission — encouraging bicyclists to wear helmets.

“I always wear them,” she told the Independent. “It makes me so frustrated when someone is not wearing them.”

It was for that reason that she was thrilled to share her story with others, she said.

“It is so very important. I have learned that the hard way.”

An international study released in 2016, which looked at helmet use by more than 64,000 cyclists, found that helmets reduce the risk of fatal head injuries by about 65 percent, according to the Guardian. Researchers, unsurprisingly, recommended helmet use.

Sweeney’s habit of wearing one has spared her family further tragedy.

“I felt so grateful my children didn’t have to relive the death of another parent,” she said.

Last year, Sweeney’s husband, Michael, died unexpectedly. Under much more poignant circumstances the Independent profiled Sweeney in a story about how she had sewn some of Michael’s clothing into quilts and stuffed toys, which she gave to family members at Christmas.

Last week, after her crash, she was feeling thankful for those family members.

“I am so grateful for my family who has stepped up, taking great care of me. I have a new lease on life and am so happy to be alive.”

Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

 

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