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My View: Importance of helmets learned the hard way

By Pamela Bierl

Summer vacation. Two words that instantly bring a smile to the face and a feeling of euphoria for millions of students.

However, I must admit, as a school teacher, the summer means finally taking a family vacation, finishing projects that were started months before and catching up with friends and family.

Every summer, our family goes camping at Allegany State Park. It’s not a luxury vacation, but it’s filled with long hikes, great food, lots of laughter, a family talent night and long bike rides.

This year’s trip was nothing short of awesome until it was cut short by an unexpected accident that left me and my husband reeling in shock.

It would end with an ambulance ride, a surgery and a life-altering realization of how quickly circumstances can change in an instant.

It was a gorgeous morning when I decided to take two of my kids and my friend’s three kids on a scenic bike ride around Red House Lake. We were ready to leave and I gave the lecture, “Take it slow going down the gravel road, watch for pedestrians walking on the bike path, be safe!”

My son and his friend were leading the way, my 14-year-old daughter behind them, my girlfriend’s 9-year-old in front of me and me at the end pulling along a bike carrier with a 5-year-old safely strapped inside wearing his Captain America helmet.

In the span of one short mile, our lives changed. One mile from our cabin, I came down the path and found my daughter tangled in her bike on the ground crying.

I reached where she lay, just a minute after she had crashed into a bike path sign. Running to her, I noticed that her ear had been partially severed and she was bleeding profusely. Apparently, she had looked over to yell something to her brother and didn’t realize she had come to the end of the bike path. She turned quickly and struck the bike path sign.

We would learn later from the surgeon at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo that the laceration behind her ear was more dangerous than the missing part of her ear. The cut went all the way to her skull bone, and any farther could have killed her.

Luckily, my daughter walked away with a concussion, more than 30 stitches and an abrupt end to her soccer season, but we were blessed she was alive and would recover.

What upsets my husband and I now is that we know better. Our kids have helmets, but they weren’t wearing them that sunny day on a bike path.

My worst decision was underestimating the danger that a simple bike ride on a bike path could pose.

However, I know I am not alone. Since the accident, I am increasingly aware of the number of kids on the roads not wearing helmets, leaving their helmets unbuckled or simply carrying the helmet on the handle bars.

I’m not judging, because I know whenever I tell my kids to put on their helmets, I get a battle in response. “I don’t need it, Mom. I’m fine,” or “I’ll look stupid!”

Statistically, bike accidents and injuries are on the rise, and many of those injuries can be prevented by wearing a helmet. Nationally, over 1 million children under the age of 16 are injured in bicycle accidents, with many of those accidents resulting in serious head injuries.

Now more than ever I’ll fight the battle with my kids and insist they wear their helmets. However, I imagine I won’t have to argue with them too much anymore.

Pamela Bierl, a mother of four living in North Boston, is a seventh-grade special education teacher at Hamburg Middle School.
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