Timing – and a bike helmet – save a life

September 6th, 2018
Scott and Ramona Rudis pose for a photo behind bicycles | Bike helmet safety | UCHealth
Scott and Ramona Rudis posed for a photo, two minutes before her life-threatening bike crash. Photo courtesy Ramona Rudis.

For Ramona Rudis, timing – and a bike helmet – likely saved her life.

Out for a bike ride

It was Aug. 10, 2017 and Ramona and her husband, Scott, had just returned to the home of Marvin and Margaret Kottman, friends of theirs who live part time in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The group had finished biking together. Before taking off their helmets, Ramona and Margaret decided to ride back down the neighborhood street to take a photo of the Kottman’s newly remodeled home.

That’s all Ramona remembers.

Emergency responders are shown caring for Ramona Rudis on the side of the road - Bike helmet safety | UCHealth
Emergency responders care for Ramona Rudis before transporting her to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. Photo courtesy Ramona Rudis.

“I looked at her ahead of me on her bike, then behind me to see if there was an opening where we could take a photo,” said Margaret. “When I looked forward again, it looked as though Ramona was sleeping on the road – both of her hands were together and her feet were together as though she just set her bike down and lay down.” It is presumed Ramona skidded and fell due to a patch of gravel on the paved road, happening so quickly that she didn’t have time to brace for impact.

Margaret quickly dismounted her bike and ran to Ramona’s side. Ramona was breathing, but out cold, her face resting in a pool of blood. Margaret screamed, “Help me!” to nearby construction workers.

“I was at the house when I heard the news,” Scott recalled. “Margaret had called another of our friends and told her I needed to get down to them, that Ramona was hurt. I immediately jumped on my bike and rode the few blocks down the hill. An ambulance was already there – I couldn’t believe it.”

It happened to be that a new EMT was on a training exercise, getting some miles under their belt with driving an ambulance around the twists and turns of the mountain neighborhood. The ambulance was the first vehicle Ramona’s friend saw.

“The EMTs knew she was hurt really bad, so checked for a helicopter in the area in case she needed transferred,” said Scott. “Again, timing was on our side because the helicopter wasn’t on another call. It was at the nearby airport.”

From bike ride to helicopter ride

Once Ramona arrived at the emergency room at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, CT scans showed how bad the accident actually was – Ramona had a hematoma on each side of her brain, and her brain was starting to swell. She also had sustained facial fractures, six pelvic fractures and four hip fractures.

“When I first saw her where she crashed, she had very minimal marking on her face before the swelling started,” said Scott. “Initially, I thought she just got knocked out. I couldn’t believe what actually happened when she crashed.”

“It’s difficult to say exactly how Ramona’s injuries might have been different had she not been wearing a helmet,” said Dr. Laura Sehnert, the emergency room physician at Yampa Valley Medical Center who received Ramona. “Luckily, she had one on.”

Due to weather on the Front Range, Ramona was flown to a hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, where a neurosurgeon was waiting. Luckily for Scott, the Kottmans had their own plane, and were able to fly Scott to Grand Junction immediately. Once there, he waited for word on his wife.

Ramona Rudis lies in a hospital bed following brain surgery.
Ramona Rudis following brain surgery. Photo courtesy Ramona Rudis.

“The surgeon finally came out and said the surgery went really well and that they had stopped the bleeding,” said Scott. “He said, ‘Plan to be here awhile, maybe a couple months. You’re not going to be able to move her.’ She was that fragile.”

After eight days, Ramona was cleared for surgery to insert plates in her hip and pelvis.

Nearly three weeks passed, and Ramona was cleared to go home to Texas to an inpatient brain clinic in Dallas. The same friends that flew Scott to Grand Junction offered to fly them home, complete with a bed in the back of their plane.

“Part of my physical therapy before we went back to Texas was learning how to crawl backwards so I could get from my wheelchair to the bed in our friend’s plane,” said Ramona.

Taking time to say thanks

August 2018 found Ramona and Scott back in Steamboat Springs with a set mission – to thank those who were instrumental in saving her life.

“We saw the EMTs and went to YVMC to thank everyone there,” said Ramona. “I’m here today because of them and their quick actions and care.”

Sehnert said it’s not unusual for emergency physicians to become vested in their patients, even in the sometimes very short time the patients are in the emergency department.

Friends Margaret Kottman and Ramona Rudis are shown in this photo.
Friends Margaret Kottman and Ramona Rudis celebrate the difference a year can make. Photo courtesy Margaret Kottman.

“We usually see patients in a time of crisis, and we go through that crisis with them,” she said. “Getting to see our patients back with their families allows us to feel their joy as well. It’s pretty great to see their smiles and that they’ve moved past the crisis and are back to what they love to do.”

The quick work by the responders and medical personnel wasn’t lost on Ramona’s friends either.

“Marvin and I are forever grateful for all the wonderful people who were doing their job – an outstanding job – when Ramona’s accident occurred,” said Margaret. “Without their skills, my friend may not be here today.”

Ramona’s short-term memory still slips, and she lacks some feeling on the left side of her face, but otherwise has made a complete recovery.

“I used to think I worked out pretty good, but never in my life did I work as hard as I did during rehab,” she said.

While she still has about six months before she’s cleared to get back on a bike, it’s definitely something she plans to do again – and certainly with a helmet.

“This story would have had a very different ending if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet,” she said. “I’m glad I was.”

About the author

Lindsey Reznicek is a communications specialist with UCHealth who is based in Steamboat Springs.