Reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Cyclist to return home after near fatal crash in Italy

Keagan Girdlestone, right, is a South African-born cyclist based in Christchurch has been battling back from a devastating crash. Photo / Facebook
Keagan Girdlestone, right, is a South African-born cyclist based in Christchurch has been battling back from a devastating crash. Photo / Facebook

A 19-year-old cyclist who came close to death after he crashed during a high-speed mountain descent in Italy could return home to Christchurch soon.

Professional cyclist Keagan Girdlestone is making a slow but sure recovery in San Giorgio rehabilitation hospital in Ferrara, Italy.

Yesterday, he shared news of his day to day life and the improvements he was making on website Cycling Tips.

"I've gone from collapsing after a mere five seconds of sitting, to being able to walk," he wrote.

Damage to his right vocal cord has not improved, but Girdlestone makes light of the resulting change in his voice: "My left vocal cord can compensate for this loss through continued vocal therapy. I still sound like Batman. I guess my audition on X-Factor is a long shot now."

During the race, on June 5, Girdlestone came close to death after slamming into the back of a suddenly-braking race vehicle during the Coppa Della Pace race near Rimini.

The accident severed his carotid artery, jugular vein, nerves and muscles.

Due to major loss of blood at the scene, as well as the time it took to get him to surgery, the right hand side of his brain was starved of blood and oxygen.

He also sustained bruising of his brain, due to the impact, and has difficulty breathing because of nerve damage.

This image shows the extensive damage Keagan suffered to his neck in the crash. Photo / Screengrab
This image shows the extensive damage Keagan suffered to his neck in the crash. Photo / Screengrab

He has limited movement of his left side due to the lack of oxygen to the brain, and he cannot bend his right arm.

"There are many activities I used to take for granted that I now struggle with on a daily basis. Getting out of bed, showering, washing my hair, drying myself, getting dressed, spraying deodorant, feeding myself. Just being able to turn onto my side while lying in bed is difficult," Girdlestone said.

"Two weeks ago I fell over in the gym and couldn't get up without assistance."

Girdlestone says now that he's in recovery, he's training harder than he was as a professional athlete.

"My day starts at 8.30am. I eat breakfast and get dressed and then go to physio from 9.30am to 1.30am. I have vocal therapy from 11.30am to 12.30pm and then it's time for lunch. At 1.30pm I have 'robots,' a machine workout for my arms, a second physio session goes from 2.30pm to 4.30pm and only after that can I have a break.

"My days are pretty hard out. Heck, I'm training harder now than I ever did for cycling: five to seven hours a day, five days a week.

"Every day I have to work on everything; every part of my body. Hands, feet, fingers, voice, you name it - as a result I am tired all the time," Girdlestone wrote.

But the South Africa-born Kiwi says he's now stable enough to return home - or at least to a Christchurch hospital, where he'll continue his recovery.

Flights and dates are yet to be confirmed.

"I need to be escorted by a medical doctor and transferred to a hospital in Christchurch. So, even when I do get home, I actually don't get to go home per se. But being in a familiar environment and being able to see my friends will be awesome for my morale and further recovery," he wrote.

- NZ Herald

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