On this date for the past six years, I have taken the day off from work to spend it in quiet prayer to reflect on the miracle of my life being saved seven years ago after a drunk driver hit me from behind while I was riding my bicycle in Canada. Doctors said that wearing a bicycle helmet saved my life.
I am thankful to the doctors, nurses and staff at Erie County Medical Center, along with family and friends who sat there for 17 hours before doctors exited surgery to announce I had survived, after many close calls, but I was still in critical condition.
I also thank, through prayer, the thousands of Western New Yorkers who sent me cards and gifts of support during my 44 days in the hospital and months of recuperation afterward.
Although I am still undergoing physical therapy for lingering back problems, I feel great. I have not had the urge to ride a bicycle, except for two charity events. Hopefully, someday I will ride again.
What bothers me most today is the general disregard for the state's mandatory bicycle-helmet law for children 14 and under.
When I worked with Erie County Legislator Raymond Dusza on a county law and then with former Gov. Mario Cuomo on the current state law, I endorsed mandatory helmet use for riders of all ages. With the conditions of our roads and the general disregard by drivers, especially those talking on phones, it is a challenge to ride a bicycle in the streets these days.
Often I'll stop my car and ask bike riders of all ages why they are not wearing a helmet. I hear the same story over and over.
After telling them my story, I ask if they ever fear falling off their bike or getting hit by a car. To a person, they have responded, "That will never happen to me." I never thought a car would hit me, either. Luckily, I was wearing a helmet seven years ago today.
We must encourage and fight for safety for our youth while they ride bicycles, roller blade, skateboard and participate in sports. I cringe when I read about children in Children's Hospital or adults in ECMC with injuries -- some fatal -- from a bicycle accident.
Wearing a helmet is a small price to pay to protect your head and your life.
MICHAEL J. BILLONI Buffalo