I met Heather due to some unfortunate circumstances back in May 2016. She was involved in a life changing motorcycle accident here in my hometown of Oceanside, CA.
Most people in Oceanside know Moto F.A.M. is an important project for me, so whenever there’s an accident locally I typically get a call or text message with info about the accident. My heart sunk the day I got the call about Heather. There’s a good chance if it’s a female rider, I’d know her.
I didn’t know Heather, but I immediately reached out to her. The first time I met her, Lisa Troop and I visited her in the hospital. I expected to see a beat up, broken person, facing some big changes. Instead I was met by a beautifully put together woman. Her makeup done perfectly. She was very welcoming, bouncing all around her room, offering us a seat and insisting we get comfortable. By no means was any of this holding her back. It was very clear she was a tough cookie, refusing to let the situation hold her down.
I was impressed to say the least. Her situation stuck with me. It truly made me self reflect. More so then some of the other situations I’ve seen. Weeks after visiting her in the hospital, I invited her to dinner. She was newly out of the hospital and facing life with some new challenges. She was in a wheelchair at that point. I was humbled by how difficult it was for her to maneuver. A simple dinner meant getting ready, getting picked up, loading her wheelchair and then accessing places that weren’t easy to get to, despite being “wheelchair accessible.” At one point she leaned over to me and said she still hadn’t gotten used to how many people stare at her. It brought it to my attention and very quickly I became aware of how rude people could be. Possibly not intentional, but nonetheless it was a different life she was having to adjust to.
Since then I’ve seen her a few more times. Each time she seems to be adjusting more and more. I ran into her about a couple weeks ago at an event and I mentioned the idea of doing a follow-up story. She looked great, healthy and extremely mobile. I’m so impressed with how strong she is. She has refused to do anything but overcome. I wanted to share her story. I asked her a few questions and gave her the chance to share her experience, so here it is:
Where are you from and what is it that made you love riding?
I grew up in Florida, with my dad who raced professionally (flat track, motocross, and vintage) My dad and I would ride for hours, but even then, I hated being on the back of a bike. I needed to be the one in control. Later I moved in with my mom. We ended up moving to Northern California a few months later. Riding in California was a lot different. Winter was cold and wet but you learn to adapt. I currently live in Southern California, and there’s nothing better then being able to ride all year long! The freedom I get from riding is like no other feeling. I loved the fact that I was one of the few women riding in the area and I rode a lot.
Share with us the day of your accident and what injuries you were facing?
At the time of my accident I worked for Riverside Harley-Davidson so I rode to work often. May 13th fell on a Friday. The date was Friday the 13th and I wasn’t scheduled to work. It was beautiful outside. I chose to spend my day visiting family and friends on my bike. Everything in my life changed when I passed through the intersection of Meyer’s. A woman under the influence of heroine and meth ran the stop sign at that intersection going 40 mph. I saw her when she was about 4-5 feet from my bike. I figured she would clip my bike tire. I remember thinking I would probably be ejected, instead she had hit my right leg and crushed it. I was ejected, I landed on my face, knowing I was sliding I needed to direct where I was sliding so I rolled to my back. She had hit me so hard my shoe and sock were ripped off on impact. I knew I needed to save my foot but my femur was protruding out of my skin. I couldn’t control it. The 3rd and final attempt to lift my foot it flopped upward along side my leg with no skin left on my right foot. I remember every single moment of that afternoon and I never knew how close to death I was until later. Once I stopped sliding down the street I started praying for God to to save me. I knew it was bad because the Fire Department had called for a life flight.
My femur was repaired with a rod the night I arrived to the hospital. My hip was repaired as well. My left leg had several breaks needing treatment since I had taken the impact of the curb (the curb stopped me from continuing to slide). They tried to save my foot for 2 days but Sunday night into Monday morning they amputated my leg below the knee. I was pretty medicated during my entire stay in the trauma center.
What seemed to be your most difficult obstacle immediately following your accident?
Having 10 years of sobriety under my belt made the experience more challenging. Though my recovery is from alcohol, I found myself facing the use of painkillers while in the trauma center and rehabilitation center. It was really scary for me.
Also, at the time of my accident I had a two story home. I was told I must move in order to heal. I needed to for the first time in my life to ask and accept help, that was the biggest obstacle I had to overcome.
How did the support people offered you (close friends & motorcycle community) affect your recovery?
The outpouring of help from my extended family in the motorcycle community was overwhelming. My friend started a GoFundMe. She also helped me pack and moved my stuff into storage. Another friend offered his home, which is where I am still living.
Moto F.A.M. tries to recognize the “silver lining” with each rider during their recovery. What would you say is the silver lining for you and your situation?
When I left the hospital I was very medicated. I immediately started getting off all of my medication. By my 3rd week out I had reduced my medication to one every 12 hours. It all hit me at once… My life was completely over as I knew it. I didn’t want to live anymore. It was a very traumatic time. I cried for 36 hours straight and then I said, “Ok Heather, crying isn’t gonna make your leg grow back, so what in the hell are you going to do?” I decided to try and be a positive light in this dark situation. After several sessions to deal with my trauma mentality, I decided I wanted people to not feel sorry for me. Instead I wanted people to realize how fortunate I was to be alive. I wanted to live in complete gratitude!
What else would you like to share about your experience?
The woman who hit me left the scene, luckily she was arrested later that afternoon. My entire summer and into fall was spent appearing in court. She was finally convicted and sentenced on October 29, 2016. She didn’t have insurance so my bills are still very overwhelming. The life flight was $48,000 dollars. They started hounding me 2 weeks after my accident and still continue to today. They have placed a lien on my uninsured motorists policy. My insurance had denied all the bills at first claiming she should have had insurance. Doesn’t seem fair.
The healing process was made even harder dealing with all the legalities, claims, costs, court dates and life changes that have come along with this accident. I’m 9 months out and my wound is finally closed. The doctor wanted to save as much of my leg as possible, so the skin that they used was destroyed by road rash. Healing took forever. I have seen several doctors and hundreds of appointments since the accident.
My freedom being taken away has also been hard. Freedom to ride, work or just jump in the car and go. I finally am getting the prosthetic leg down. This is my 3rd and I will continue to get several more before my leg somewhat stabilizes. I never knew that your leg continues to shrink for the rest of your life and will continue to need new prosthetic replacements. The shrinkage is from the muscle atrophy. Throughout my day my leg shrinks so I have to bring different layers to keep my leg tight in my prosthetic socket. Otherwise I could damage my leg and not be able to use a prosthetic at all.
The other thing that was really hard to take was I could not work out daily like I used to. I cried so hard knowing that I couldn’t work out when I was in the hospital. I am finally getting back to how hard I used to train, but it’s forever different. I am grateful for my friend Katie. She trained and motivated me 2 months after the accident. She owns a pilates studio I used to go to regularly prior to my accident. It helps me stay strong and sane.
I can’t wait to get back on a bike, that will help with my sanity too! I know that when I ride I always run the risk of this happening but I always thought I would be killed, not disfigured. There may come a time where I feel the risk outweighs the reward… but at this moment, the woman who chose to drive under the influence and change my life is not going to determine my future! I know God has a plan for me, may not be my plan, but he has a plan for me.
Heather still faces a ton of obstacles financially. She’s a very motivated and determined women but it’s been less than a year since her accident and she’s still in recovery. The women that hit her was uninsured and will be going to prison for driving under the influence and hit & run. Heather’s GoFundMe campaign is still active. If you feel inclined to help please do. We say this all the time, “A little help goes a long way”.
I’m very fortunate to have met Heather. Her story has touched me in a very good way. ❤️
Founder of Moto F.A.M.