Mike’s Story: Racing Once Again

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Mike Ashton loves dirt bike racing. He says he would settle for second or third place, if it came to that. “I’ve done this since I've been a kid. It's what I love, it’s what I love to do.”

Mike’s dad introduced him to racing in 1969. “I was five years old and I had a little donut wheel mini bike. My very first races were on that little doughnut wheel mini bike. I had no idea what I was doing. I ended up getting a – and I still have it – a little third-place trophy, and that's when I pretty much started doing it from there on out.”

During a race in August 2018, Mike was involved in an accident.

Tina Ashton, Mike’s wife, remembers the day of the accident. “He's riding, racing ... it was his heat race and he's straight away ahead of everybody else in the race.”

“I started trying different lines and I was basically just playing, having a little fun. Got a little too high and went in a little too hard,” Mike recalls. “It's a split second decision; try to ride it out or lay the bike down and take your chance, whatever. So that's what I did. I just laid the bike down, it's not a big deal. We do it, I mean, not all the time, but it happens.”

Tina says that normally when racers do that, they get back up, start the bike and keep going. But Mike just laid there, and the longer he laid there she knew something was wrong. 

“I could not breathe,” Mike says. At first, he thought he had knocked the wind out of himself. “And then I realized it wasn't coming back,” he says.

Paramedics came and took Mike to Atrium Medical Center. “They did some CT scans, they're like, ‘You've got five broken ribs, we're going to keep you overnight just for observation and you'd probably go home tomorrow’" Tina says. “We were like, ‘All right, that's cool. We've had broken ribs before. Not a new thing for us.’"

But unlike Mike’s prior experience with broken ribs, this time there was a complication.

Mike went home from the hospital on a Sunday, and on Monday night as he was sleeping in a chair in the living room he woke up and couldn’t breathe. “I couldn't breathe again at all. I couldn't walk, I couldn't talk, and I crawled on my hands and knees to the kitchen, to the living room, to the hallway and beat on the side of the steps, which woke our dog up. She barked, which woke Tina up and she came right down and called 911,” he remembers.

Mike was taken to Upper Valley Medical Center where his condition was quickly assessed. He was transported via CareFlight’s Mobile Intensive Care Unit to Miami Valley Hospital.

Ryan Pyles-Dodds, EMT-P, MICU paramedic with CareFlight, says that depending upon what the paramedics see in transport, they may call Miami Valley Hospital to alert them to the patient’s condition on the way to the hospital. “He was breathing rapidly, so about 30 times a minute, which is significant,” Ryan says. “That's the one piece of information we have and we know something is wrong in Mike's body. We don't know necessarily what it is at this point. That's why we come to a trauma center.”

Mike had developed severe pulmonary complications as a result of his rib fractures. Gregory Semon, DO, FACS, trauma surgeon, says that rib fractures are very painful and take several months to heal. “The ribs fracture commonly in a pattern, what's called the flail chest, and that's where the ribs fractured in two places,” Dr. Semon explains. “So, if you imagine a piece of bone that's floating in the middle of space, your whole rib cage is expanding and contracting every time you breathe. But this flail segment where the bone fragments are completely separate from the rest of the rib cage is just floating in space and that causes severe pain. That little fragment can poke into the lung and cause bleeding or a collapse of the lung.”

After stabilizing and assessing Mike’s condition, Dr. Semon recommended that Mike undergo rib plating surgery.

Jamie Brunicardi, CNP, trauma service advanced practice provider, says that rib plating expedites recovery, helps with pain control, and helps a person be able to take big deep breaths. It also can help the person be able to increase their activity a little faster than someone whose ribs healed on their own.

“What we do is we make an incision overlying the area of the broken ribs and we identify all of those areas with displacement of the ribs,” says Dr. Semon. “We then realign the broken ribs and we place a titanium plate that bridges the fracture. We then secure that plate on either side of the fracture with titanium screws.”

After surgery, Mike and Tina met with Dr. Semon. “He told us that two ribs were just floating and the whole side was just, it was just a mess. It was mush and [Mike] would've never recovered if he hadn't had that surgery.”

Jamie says that the rib plating is just the beginning of the journey to recovery. “I always tell patients it's a marathon, not a sprint, after an accident like this. After surgery is really when the fun begins. Physical, occupational, and speech therapy all get involved to make sure that we rehabilitate the patient back to their baseline.”

Mike was discharged on August 24, seven days after surgery. He returned to his normal routine just weeks later. 
Since then, he’s raced seven or eight races. “I’ve gone to the gym three, four times a week. I do a lot of mountain bike riding every week, three or four times a week,” Mike says.

Dr. Semon says that the goal of rib fracture surgery in any patient with multiple rib fractures is to get them back to doing what they love without being limited by the chronic pain and discomfort that often comes from such fractures. “Mike is back riding his motorcycle, doing what he loves, and if I've done that for him, then I've achieved all my goals as a surgeon,” he says.

Mike and Tina are grateful to Miami Valley Hospital. “I can't even begin to say enough about Miami Valley,” Mike says.

“They were awesome,” Tina says. “They truly care. And most importantly, they kept us calm, and everything was normal to them, and things that he was going through, they're like, ‘This is normal. It's okay.’ And for us, that's the farthest from normal.”

“They would go above and beyond,” Mike says. “I mean, they were really ... I just couldn't believe that, I don't know, I can't say enough about them.”

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