Local athlete recovering from life-threatening bicycle accident.
By Mandy Wolf Detwiler | Photos by David Harrison
It can happen in the blink of an eye. A split second, the moment when life and death hangs precariously on the balance.
For Southern Indiana resident Dave Miller, that moment came on July 1 as he and three friends cycled the winding roads in Floyds Knobs.
Miller, a seasoned Ironman athlete and avid cyclist, hit a patch of wet road. A skid. The flash of oncoming car.
Miller collided with the vehicle, and the accident – that split second – changed his life.
The shiny black cycling helmet he wore saved it.
From his recovery room at Frazier Rehab Institute in downtown Louisville, Miller and his wife Stacy opened up to Extol about that day and the weeks that followed the accident that left him temporarily paralyzed.
Miller recalls the roads were dry that day, although it had rained the night before. He and his partners were on a 30-mile ride, leaving from Chapel Hill Road. “The roads were dry for 29 and a half miles,” Miller says. “We turned back on Chapel Hill Road to finish, and my buddy said ‘This is the last hill. Let’s go!’ So, we all kind of hammered down.”
Miller, who was second in line, hit a right-hand turn across a small bridge just as a car turned from the opposite direction. Miller’s brake locked up, and “My bike went right and I went left into the left rear quarter panel of that SUV,” he says. “The doctors said it was almost like a whiplash injury, and my nose was broken, too. I pretty much face-planted into the side of this car, and my shoulders and head took the brunt of the injury. I never lost consciousness. … The helmet definitely was my saving grace. I did see the blue sky, and the next thing I was on the ground, and I knew I was in trouble.”
The initial effects were devastating.
Two of the other riders were veterinarians and knew not to move Miller. “When I got in the ambulance, I couldn’t feel anything from my (upper chest) down,” Miller says. “And then it was ICU for 12 days.”
The longtime athlete, runner and cyclist underwent a fusion on five vertebrae in his neck. Surgeons left a broken bone in his back to heal on its own.
Miller moved from University of Louisville Hospital to Frazier Rehab on July 12 to begin his long journey to recovery. Therapy starts at 8:30 a.m. with occupational therapy, helping Miller to relearn simple daily tasks, like brushing histeeth and washing his face.
“They do a lot with my hands and bringing them back,” he says. As an employee at UPS, hand coordination is a necessity. The extremities, he says, are often the last to come back.
Miller undergoes respiratory therapy daily, as any spinal injury causes harm to the diaphragm also. The rest of the hours are passed between occupational and physical therapies.
“The physical therapist put me in a harness to stand me up and get my legs moving because their research has proved that … repetition will bring your muscles back and have your brain ‘talk’ to your spine and that’s going to make those muscles move again,” Miller says.
In early August, he moved to the research floor at Frazier for local motor training, where a team of therapists work together to move Miller’s body. The first day, the harness and treadmill system found Miller to hold just 65 percent of his body weight. At last count, he was up to 96 percent.
At the time of this article, Miller was slated to return to his home in Southern Indiana. He’ll continue at Frazier on an outpatient basis. “There are only seven places in the country that have this special treadmill, and Frazier is one of them,” says his wife, Stacy.
“The therapists here are amazing,” Dave Miller says.
Adds Stacy Miller: “Just look how far you’ve come.”
Dave can move his arms and legs now, and he says his pain level is good. His right shoulder is his biggest complaint.
Stacy is learning to be a caregiver after 24 years of marriage, since the couple has no family here and their kids are in college. “It’ll just pretty much be the two of us,” Stacy says. “I’m just learning how to take care of him, and trying to stay as upbeat for him and keep him thinking positively.”
Stacy works for the Prosser Career Education Institute, and the students there are building a ramp for Dave’s home. Some doors in the family home need to be replaced to accommodate his wheelchair, and representatives from Frazier toured the home a few weeks before his return to look for any potential hazards or obstructions.
“My biggest complaint is that I was so independent,” Dave says. “And now I’m completely dependent on everyone.”
“Don’t let your ego get the best of you. Put a helmet on. That thing saved my life.” –Dave Miller
As friends, neighbors and even strangers are wont to do, the rally around the Miller family has been phenomenal. Through a GoFundMe campaign, the family has raised more than $3,700 by selling green t-shirts and bracelets in support of Dave’s recovery – more than the initial $3,500 campaign goal.
The swag proclaims #Davewillrideagain and #Helmetssavelives, a solid reminder that life is fleeting.
In the weeks that followed the accident, Dave found himself surrounded by support. Just talking about it brings tears to him and Stacy.
“It’s wonderful. I had no idea that we knew as many people as we know,” Dave says. “I had no idea that we have such a positive influence. It’s just wonderful. Everybody’s been above and beyond from work to Stacy, friends, my sister-in-law from northern Indiana – it’s just amazing.”
He’s found support from the Louisville Landsharks, a local triathalon club that held a fundraiser for his recovery.
“We get so many cards, like from all over the United States and it’s like ‘wow’,” Stacy says.
Still, Dave takes comfort in his plan to run a marathon before the accident. Instead, he ran four. He also completed half an Ironman, “and if I just stick to their plan, I’m going to walk again,” he says with a slight stitch in his voice. “That’s my goal. I just want to hold Stacy’s hand and walk down the street.”
His biggest piece of advice to fellow athletes? “Don’t let your ego get the best of you,” Dave says. “Put a helmet on. That thing saved my life.”
How You Can Help
After two months in the hospital and rehabilitation, the ongoing costs of Dave Miller’s medical bills continue to rise.
Brie Fleming has lived next door to the Millers for the last nine years and is organizing a fundraiser 5 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 28 at Newlin Hall, 2818 Green Valley Road in New Albany.
“The friendship that we have – you can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends. They’re the friends I’d pick as family,” Fleming says.
The event will host a silent auction. Amongst the items offered will be a one-hour flight lesson or sightseeing flight, a replica of the New Albany Bulldogs basketball court and a signed 2017-2018 team basketball, and a round of golf donated by Valley View Golf Course.
There will be hourly 50/50 pots and live music donated by a local deejay.
Bearno’s Pizza has donated pasta for 100 people, Tumbleweed has donated queso and chips, and Texas Roadhouse will provide salad and rolls. There is a $5 cover charge for the event.
To donate directly to the GoFundMe fundraiser and purchase t-shirts and bracelets, visit https://www.gofundme.com/davestshirt.
To follow Miller’s recovery, visit https://www.facebook.com/davewillrideagain. For more information on the benefit or to donate prizes for the silent auction, contact Fleming at email@example.com.