By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- When Matthew Helsley crashed a motorcycle in Frederick County weeks ago, fire and rescue workers knew he needed a medical helicopter trip to Fairfax.
Now Helsley's family fears his health insurance provider may not pay the $28,000 price of the AirCare transport. A benefit motorcycle ride set this Sunday -- one of several fundraisers held since the crash -- may help.
In an interview at home this week Helsley sat in a chair wearing a back brace around his torso. A tube in his throat helped him breath but he could speak.
"It's like my gladiator suit," Helsley said as air went in and out of the breathing tube.
Helsley's brother, Adam Orndorff, a sergeant with the Winchester Police Department, said doctors removed the tube from his brother's trachea on Thursday and he continues to show signs of improvement.
The 32-year-old avid motorcyclist and mechanic works as a corrections officer at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center and still serves as a firefighter for the Star Tannery Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company. Helsley served as the company chief until he and his wife, Emi, moved into their new home on Poorhouse Road earlier this year.
Helsley returned to his home on Poorhouse Road from Inova Fairfax hospital two weeks ago and continues to go through rehabilitation. Helsley makes progress daily, according to his family who takes care of him at home.
Family and friends continue to hold benefit events to raise money to help cover Helsley's medical bills. Helsley's family and a local group of motorcycle riders, many of whom work with Helsley at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center, plan to hold a benefit ride and cook-out Sunday.
The benefit ride begins at Grove's Harley Davidson on Millwood Pike in Frederick County around 12:30 p.m. Riders plan to travel from Grove's through the county and ride by Helsley's home on the way to the Star Tannery Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company station where they will gather for the cook-out. Live music and fundraisers will be held at the event.
Orndorff said he expects close to 300 motorcyclists involved in the ride. The Defenders Motorcycle Club, whose members include law enforcement agents, is spearheading the effort, Orndorff said.
Supporters hope to raise money to help the family.
"The helicopter's unreal priced," Helsley said. "So our insurance isn't covering the helicopter. Some people told me if you keep fighting they may cover it."
Veteran fire and rescue officials who arrived on the scene of Helsley's crash made the call for the AirCare helicopter rather than take the rider to Winchester Medical Center
Helsley broke all his vertebrae, 14 ribs and his sternum as well as dozens of bones in his face which required reconstructive and plastic surgery, his family explained. Somehow Helsley broke no limbs, which helped him undergo rehabilitation. Part of the regimen requires that Helsley walk at least 150 feet per day which he does with the aid of a metal cane or a walker with wheels. Walking the 150 feet or more per day also lets Helsley avoid painful shots of medication in his stomach.
On one recent day Helsley walked around the couple's entire 2-acre property.
"My legs are still strong," Helsley said.
The collision collapsed both lungs and bruised his heart. Doctors installed a tube in his throat to allow Helsley to breath. Helsley also has had to eat through a feeding tube in his abdomen.
"They sliced me ear to ear, pulled out a piece of my skull to rebuild my nose," Helsley said. "They put titanium plates in my cheeks."
The force of the impact split his open palate and a blood vessel burst, causing him to nearly bleed to death.
Orndorff estimated more than 100 people came to see Helsley in the hospital. While Helsley lay in the trauma center, his mother said hospital staff allowed visitors to enter two at a time to see the patient who remained unconscious much of the time.
"It feels good," Helsley said. "I'm glad. People pulled in to help 'cause I definitely needed the prayers."
"It wasn't surprising as much as he does for everybody else," said Orndorff. "But it was overwhelming just the amount of people. I mean, I expected a lot but I didn't expect that much."
Doctors didn't expect Helsley to survive, his family said.
Helsley and Orndorff recalled that the kickstand of his brother's Harley Davidson motorcycle came down and hit the road. As Helsley tried to knock off the kickstand the motorcycle struck a tree and the collision which bent the handle bars tossed the rider over the front, Orndorff explained. Helsley struck a fence post face first, then spun in the air about 20 feet and hit a second post with his chest. The motorcycle flipped end-over-end and narrowly missed striking the rider who lay entangled in the wire, according to Orndorff. Rescue workers had to cut Helsley from the wires.
"I don't remember the impact," Helsley said. "Then I remember trying to get up and I couldn't. Then the guy come running and said he called 911. I don't remember much."
The Helsleys credit neighbor Jim Spence with finding the injured rider lying obscured by tall grass off the road. Spence, Helsley's wife said, told them he saw the motorcycle but not the rider. Then he saw movement in the grass and decided to stop, found Helsley and called 911.
"I'm really grateful that he stopped," Emi Helsley said.
Chester Lauck, chief at the nearby Round Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, came to the crash site. Helsley recalled he couldn't see Lauck but recognized his voice. But Helsley remembered Lauck said he couldn't tell who he was because of the injuries to his face. Helsley said Lauck called for Don Jackson, chief with the Gainesboro company, to come to the scene.
"Then I remember Don [Jackson] showing up," Helsley said. "I don't remember a whole lot of what they did. The last thing I remember [is] being put in the ambulance, seeing the roof and Don saying 'we're gonna go ahead and take him out. ... He said 'no way he's goin' to Winchester [Medical Center]."
"Thank God he did [go to Fairfax]," Orndorff said. "I don't think he would've made it."
The ambulance crew took Helsley to Valley Proteins where the helicopter had landed and AirCare then transported Helsley to Inova Fairfax. Rescue workers gave Helsley medication to render him unconscious. As Helsley and Orndorff explained, they didn't take him to Winchester Medical Center because the hospital does not have a trauma surgeon on staff.
"Winchester's coming a long way but they're not there yet," Orndorff noted.
Helsley awoke in the Fairfax hospital two weeks after the crash. Orndorff noted his brother needed emergency surgery the first night at the hospital to stop internal bleeding caused by the crash.
"It was very touch and go actually the first week," Orndorff recalled.
Helsley's heart stopped at least three times early in his treatment, when staff had to turn him on his side for X-rays and other procedures, according to his wife. Doctors blamed bruising and trauma for weakening his heart to the point that moving his body caused the organ to stop for 15 seconds.
"I still got a good bit of swelling," Helsley said.
Recovery and rehabilitation requires Helsley walk at least 150 feet each day, his wife explained. Helsley follows a daily regimen of exercises. His wife or other family members who help with caring for him administer Helsley's pain medication.
Helsley's wife and brother agreed the toughest part of caring for him is putting on the back brace that wraps around his torso. But Helsley noted the doctors have said if he continues to wear the brace he likely can avoid back surgery.
Doctors had to shut his mouth with wires though through coughing and yawning the connections have broken free.
"Most of the time he's hurting, he don't want to get up," his wife said. "You gotta make him get up so he doesn't get pneumonia."
His wife who also works at the regional jail returned to her job recently after spending time with Helsley at the hospital and rehabilitation. She stayed home with him over the past weekend when he fell ill.
Their church has given the Helsleys food and other supplies since the crash and members have come out to mow their lawn. Neighbors also continue to pitch in and help the family. The neighbors fed the Helsley's pets while the family stayed at the hospital. Colleagues from the jail also came out to help.