Keagan Girdlestone, the 19-year-old Dimension Data for Qhubeka rider who crashed into the back of a team car during a race sustaining serious injuries in Italy in June, has spoken for the first time about the horrific incident.
The South African posted on social media from his hospital bed in Italy that he ‘should be dead’ and that it is a ‘miracle that I am able to walk and talk’.
Girdlestone suffered severe lacerations to his neck after going through the back windscreen of the car while pacing himself up to the peloton after a mechanical in the Coppa della Pace race near Rimini. The loss of blood meant that his brain was starved of oxygen and he was in an extremely critical condition. Initial reports had suggested that Girdlestone had died, which thankfully proved to be false.
“As most of you know, I was in a pretty bad accident eight weeks ago that nearly ended my life,” wrote Girdlestone.
“This has been the most testing eight weeks of my life and the first few weeks were very dark, probably because I was sleeping most of it or have little memory of what happened in those weeks.”
“During that time I was hallucinating and the things I though and saw made me worry about myself. And the things I apparently said, ‘mum, the nurses are trying to f’ing kill me’. Luckily they are Italian and speak little to no English!”
Girdlestone says that he is currently unable to move his right arm and has problems using his left arm. The damage to his throat means that he has trouble speaking.
“I should be dead. It’s a miracle I’m able to walk, talk (very softly as my vocal chord is damaged) and have brain functionality,” he wrote.
“During this experience of me not having functionality in my right arm and uncontrollable shaking of the left hand when I try to use it, I have begun to appreciate the small things in life.”
Girdlestone’s remarkable recovery have been the subject of several newspaper reports in Italy, where he will remain in hospital as he rehabilitates. His parents have travelled from New Zealand to be with him, where Girdlestone moved with his family from South Africa four years ago.
Vascular surgeon Michele Leone was one of the medical team credited with saving Girdlestone’s life, and posted a message to Girdlestone via Facebook.
“Hi Keagan, I’m Michele Leone, the vascular surgeon who, with Mr Maurizio Cent, performed your emergency surgery. In all these years I have never seen anything like it.”
“Our greatest fear in the beginning was that of not being able to finish the job. After we finished, we were afraid of the damage that you could have incurred. Our hope was tied to your youth, to your will to fight and to the capabilities of all those who have seen you before, during and after the surgery.”
Girdlestone has been inundated with messages of support from the cycling community and beyond. Mark Cavendish sent a video message from the Dimension Data team bus during the Tour de France.
“To everyone that sent me messages, I can’t thank you enough,” said Girdlestone. “There was a night in ICU when I gave up on life and accepted death, but woke up the next morning with my mum over me and I looked into her eyes as she told me ‘everything is going to be okay’.”
A fund-raising page under the banner ‘#keepfightingkeagz’ has raised over £13,000 to date, with the money being used to fund his parents stay in Italy and medical costs. Ultimately, the money will also be used to transport him back home to New Zealand and for any support he needs.