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Bicyclist keeps spirit high after paralyzing accident


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POSTED: Sunday, September 27, 2009

John Henderson was riding his bicycle mauka on Kamehameha Highway from Haleiwa on May 2 when a tour bus hit him from behind, throwing him more than 90 feet.

The impact broke his left shoulder in three places, eight vertebrae and 13 ribs, and crushed both hips. It also damaged his colon, liver, spleen and heart, and punctured both lungs.

He was taken in critical condition to the Queen's Medical Center, where he underwent 18 hours of surgery. The injuries left him paralyzed from the belly button down and unable to move his left hand and arm.

When Henderson, who was a multi-sport athlete, went to a spinal cord rehabilitation center in Colorado, he could manage only to sit up long enough for the takeoff and landing aboard the airplane.

He returned to Oahu last month with the ability to sit up in a wheelchair—with the help of powerful pain medication—and enough strength in his left hand and arm to wheel himself around and pick up things. And he says he has some movement in his legs and feet, but not enough to walk.

Henderson, 35, said his positive attitude will help him improve further, which means learning to do some of the same activities he did before, but differently. He probably won't be able to walk, run or ride his bicycle again.

He's lived in a home in Waialua that faces open fields in the shadow of Mount Kaala because it gave him the opportunity to wake up in the morning, grab his mountain bike and go riding from his garage.

“;I wake up to the same view, but I can't go. That's what's tough,”; he said last week.

He's filed a lawsuit against the tour bus company and the driver. And he's hoping his experience will raise bicycle safety awareness among both motorists and bicyclists, “;so that what's happened to me won't happen to somebody else,”; he said.

One item he'd like people to be aware of is a bill pending before the City Council that would prohibit motorists from driving their vehicles within 3 feet of bicyclists when passing them on the roadway. Many cyclists testified in favor of the proposal, but the Honolulu Police Department testified against it.

“;We oppose it on the difficulty of enforceability,”; said Maj. Thomas Nitta of HPD's Traffic Division.

Nitta said officers will have a difficult time determining whether a vehicle passes within 3 feet. He said the proposal will also create a “;bubble”; around bicycles.

“;And everybody would be slowed down at the speed of the bicyclist,”; he said.

Henderson said he was riding on the right shoulder of the highway alongside his girlfriend when the bus hit him. His lawyer, Rick Fried, said video recorded inside the bus shows it left the roadway. Fried said he's scheduled to interview the driver soon to determine why.