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Posted June 29, 2012 | comments 15 Comments

Motorcyclist hurt in crash faces high bill for helicopter ride

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

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.

15 Comments | Leave a comment

    Matthew is very lucky to be alive. I lost my nephew in a motorcycle accident last summer. I'm glad you made it, prayers with you and your family.

    Interestingly enough had this poor soul incurred these injuries in an automobile accident, more than likely the insurer would not be arguing the cost of the medevac. He's very fortunate in having the guardian angels that were quick on the scene. Speaking as a motorcycle riding instructor safety professional, the extent of his injuries seem to indicate he was wearing a minimal amount (if any) protective gear, not to mention the questionable mechanical condition of his bike (side-stand falling down). Given the huge amount of risk factors surrounding motorcycle riding and the consequences that can ensue as illustrated by this story; it continually amazes me, that a seeming majority of riders choose to maximize their risk as opposed to minimizing it (by wearing good riding gear, bike maintenance, not riding while impaired,skills improvement etc) - or by taking positive actions that mitigate motorcycle riding risk factors. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation states it succinctly with the statement, "you don't have to take risks to enjoy the ride". Fortunately in this country, we are free to choose whatever degree of risk we'd like and to accept the consequences for those actions.

    And I have to wear a seatbelt while being surrounded by protective armour for what reason? Cracks me up. I wear the seatbelt because it improves my chances to be there for the people that need me if I am in an accident. If you ride a motorbike that is your decision. I will feel sorry for others for different reasons before I feel for a motorbike rider.

    Does anyone else think that 23K for a helicopter ride is a little excessive? If these services are to be included as part of emergency response, it seems that these charges should be pre-disclosed, published, and/or regulated - or - part of a bid process administered by county emergency services.


    It's a shame that any one should have to be flown out of the county because the "great" Winchester medical center cannot staff a trauma surgeon. They can afford to pretty much take your money and add new wings to the already huge hospital but doesn't do anything towards patient care. This is the problem with the whole valley health system, it is nothing but a monopoly you have no choice here in the valley on what type of care you receive because it is all valley health. A hospital this size should be a level 1 trauma center and be able to take in ANY patient. Bottom Line!!

    First, let me say that I am proud to say that my husband & I supported Matt in the benefit ride today. Hoping we all raised a ton of money!!Prayers go out to the whole family!
    Second, I find a few of these comments are rude & opinionated. To 'allonsye'...How do you know the circumstances of this particular accident & why does this matter at all what he was wearing or how experienced he was? The most experienced rider out there can have an accident just as easily as a pro like you..and who is to say for sure if any better protective gear would have made a difference in this case? Were you there?? The point is that whether the accident occured in a car or on a bike, insurance should cover what the medical team decides. It was not his decision to be taken by helicopter.
    And to 'howboutthehotel'...Let's just hope none of your family members are ever hurt in a motorcycle accident since you will obviously have no sympathy for them either huh? Is a comment like yours really appropriate here?? Get a life!
    And finally..Good luck Matt! Fight that insurance company ...not just for you, but for all of us who love to ride!!

    I have always refrained from commenting on peoples insensitive, ignorant comments (not from just this article but from many others) but I think this time I'll throw in my two cents.

    Allonsye- Were you there, at the accident scene, to see what this poor guy was wearing? It sounds to me as though no helmet (hopefully he was wearing one, as it IS VA law) in the world would've protected his head/face by the way he hit the fence. Face first? Common man... you should know, of all people, that a helmet can only protect so much. I feel you are assuming a little too much...

    Jeremy- Dude, you have some balls. I am an employee of WMC and I am very offended by your ignorant comment. First off, as you quoted, the "great" WMC DOES have a trauma surgeon. His name is Gregory Stanford. Look him up. He is an excellent MD that I have seen do GREAT things. Apparently, this guy needed a higher level of care that WMC could provide. Or MAYBE, all of the ICU beds were full. You'll never know. You are right, WMC isn't a Level 1 trauma. It's level 2. Check out this website, it's from the Americal College of Surgeons, (www.facs.org/trauma/vrcl.pdf) and view all the stipulations for becoming a Level 1 trauma center. In case, you were unaware, WMC does fit a lot of the criteria necessary, just not all. And where do you get off saying that WMC can "add new wings to the already huge hospital but doesn't do anything towards patient care"? Those new wings were made to accommodate the rising population in the area. There are brand new critical care departments which are already, almost always to capacity. So, tell me again, how that DOESN'T relate to patient care. Yes, Valley Health is a monoploy in this region but guess what?! That "monopoly" and it's healh care providers may save your life or the life of a loved one. Then what? Educate yourself before you start blasting the hospital and making yourself look like a complete douche.

    Shenvaltech- Yes, it seems as 23K is pretty nuts when it comes to transporting in a helicopter. Think about it though- the cost of fuel, the cost of insurance to even get the thing in the air, the cost of the pilot flying as well as the RN in the back helping to keep the patient stable. There are meds, cardiac equipment, a ventilator, oxygen, and God only knows what else on that helicopter, that isn't cheap.

    What's very sad is that Mr. Helsley's insurance company has collected his monthly insurance premium for years and now it won't pay up. That's the point of this whole article...not "lets judge this poor man and make assumptions that we know NOTHING about". How about helping someone out who you don't know. Have you every heard of "pay it forward"? This world would be a whole lot better if more people "paid it forward" instead of spreading their ignorance.

    And that friends, is the BOTTOM LINE.


      BOTTOM LINE HERE DOUCHE is that this poor guy or anyone for that matter shouldn't have to be FLOWN anywhere and face the high bill after almost losing his life! If the medical center would have built more ICU rooms and had a better staff there would have been room for him to be taken to a closer hospital. My point is that for the size and income valley health takes in and pays your blow hard salary the type of care SHOULD be available just as it is in Fairfax. Whats funny is that yeah there may be ONE trauma surgeon on staff but is he their 24/7? I stand corrected on this and maybe WMC does fit some criteria but it was said perfect by you NOT ALL which it should. I think you have some balls coming on here calling people names wonder what you say about patients when their on the sick beds that pay your salary. last time I checked I still had some rights including free speech, and you really put the ASS in assumptions, Further more whats funnier is that if the "great" WMC wouldnt gouge insurance companies and patients with such high bills for such low care case in point i have talked to several ppl who have had to return to WMC 6 or 7 times to finally get a diagnosis then maybe insurance companies would pay on some of this man's bills,,, my heart goes out to this man who not only has to worry about his health but for the debt he has occurred because of an accident. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and wish a speedy recovery... HEY RNforU THATS THE BOTTOM LINE!!!

    I do not believe in karma. History has shown many terrible humans who have committed the worst atrocities have avoided this mysterious balancing system some believe in. I also know that folks in grave condition can pass on no matter how many are praying for them. People live and die by the same percentages whether they are being prayed for or not.

    As for Mr. Helsley I wish only that he makes as good of recovery as possible. My point is know what the risk are. Most accidents involving vehicles are nothing more than an inconvenience to those involved. Almost any accident in which a motorbike is involved could be debilitating or fatal to the cyclist. Especially at higher speeds.

    I agree that my post may be insensative but blunt truthful points may possibly influence someone reading that they might want limit their risk and try to stick around for those who depend on them. I can't see anyone with children getting on a bike with all the idiot drivers on the roads. I believe in the privelige of riding a motorbike but also believe many do not take a hard look at the risk and should.

    I would just like to say that I hope for a full recovery for Matt...keep up the hard work in rehab and keep pushing for the insurance to pay the helicopter bill. I also would like to say--ignore some peoples' ignorance --some of the comments on here are very insensitive to human kind and should of been omitted. God Bless you Matt and Emi...

    Jeremy, ok, so I apologize for my nasty post the other day. Your original post really struck a nerve with me from the very beginning. It was pretty shitty for me to lash out at you, so again, I am sorry. You do have a legitimate point but from the medical standpoint, I think that the first responders who were at the scene felt that getting him to a level one trauma ctr ASAP was the best thing for Mr. Helsley due to the severity of his injuries. I too feel as though WMC should be a level one trauma but unfortunately, that's not going to happen any time soon. With the way this area is growing as fast as it is, it may come one day. Or it may not.
    My "blow hard" salary is irrelevant to this conversation. But from what I can see, WMC pays their nurses no where near what other hospitals (not Valley Health affiliated) pays theirs. I am an educated individual who has worked hard to get where I am in life. Nurses don't have an easy job by any means. We earn our "blow hard" salary honestly. I am a compassionate nurse, regardless of what you think. For you to assume that "I talk about my patients who pay my salary" is very assuming, don't you think? I think that everyone who goes into healthcare much have compassion. When patients are admittied to the hospital, 9 times out of 10, it's not by choice. I think you know that. Being a patient in the hospital is probably one of the most vulnerable times in a persons life. The days of Nurse Ratchet are over (or at least I think so).
    As for gouging insurance companies.... I don't think that's why your acquaintances were seen 6-7 times. Doctors are only human and aren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Even the best doctor in the world makes mistakes. I don't think it's fair to assume the hospital is "gouging" patients just because a diagnosis wasn't made on the first visit. If they thought they were being "gouged", why didn't they go elsewhere for care?
    The cost of health care is out of this world and rising every day. Perhaps you should do some research as to why it is. One reason is that so much is written off because of peoples inability to pay and insurance companies only reimburse a certain percentage. Unfortunately, that drives the cost up for everyone else in hopes that someone can pay. It's a vicious cycle and there's NO easy fix. That's one reason why this economy is in the shitter.


    My point exactly from the first post. HOW do you go anywhere else Valley Health is a monopoly

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