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Man with autism, family give thanks for recovery from devastating dirt bike injury

Published: Nov. 25, 2021 at 10:00 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Ian Weidenbaker comes to life when he’s riding a dirt bike, or watching them race.

“It’s kinda loud,” Ian, 26, describes it.

Ian has even raced at Heartland Park, proudly sharing how he won his class once.

On the track, Ian is one of the guys. It doesn’t matter that Ian is living with autism.

His mom, Tava, admits it can be a little scary to watch him go, but it’s also a thrill.

“A lot of people (who) have autism, they’re kind of savant about a particular thing, and, for him, the racing has been kind of a family thing,” she said. “He likes that sense of freedom. He doesn’t drive, and so being able to control a motorcycle, for him, he gets a lot of happiness out of that.”

Which is why this past year has been so tough. Ian was riding last fall on the dirt track around their home.

“I was actually going pretty good at first, and I didn’t see how muddy it was,” he said.

Ian’s chain fell off, and the bike went down.

“His leg was down on the ground, so the motorcycle fell on top of his leg,” Tava said.

The result: Ian dislocated his kneecap, damaged ligaments and cartilage, and broke the head off his tibia.

Dr. Shaun Steeby, who specializes in orthopedic trauma at Cotton O’Neil Orthopedic and Sports Medicine in Topeka, said Ian’s injury was complex. The large piece of bone that broke off his tibia forced the rest of his knee to essentially shift and slide, rather than sitting aligned on a flat service.

The first step was surgery to realign the knee and leg. He spent time in a fixator device to keep his leg stable, underwent four surgeries in all, and endured months of physical rehabilitation.

A year after his injury, Dr. Steeby says he’s good to go, thanks largely to his own motivation and the support of his family.

“I can put all the bones back together and get your ligaments to heal, but there’s so much that’s out of my control that the patient and their family really have to be in control of and own,” she said.

Tava, though, credits the health care workers who knew how to meet Ian in a way he could understand.

“His nurse that he had in the emergency room - his name was Chase. The next day before his shift, he went and got him a Dirt Rider magazine so that he’d have something to look at, and that just started all the blessings that we’ve had throughout his entire injury, hospital stays, surgeries,” she said.

Dr. Steeby said she is not an expert in autism, but she does realize no two patients are the same. For Ian, she focused on clearly communicating to him every step of the way as to what would happen, and what to expect before, during, and after a procedure.

“I think it’s really scary, especially if you are a family and you know that your child or your parent or whoever it is has some sort of special needs, to be afraid that they’ll get rolled into the system and those needs won’t be accommodated,” Dr. Steeby said. “But it’s been a really important part of our practice - and I think it’s an important part of our philosophy - at Stormont to try and make sure that we’re addressing the needs that those families and those patients have so their treatment can be as smooth as possible.”

Now that’s he’s back on his feet, you might wonder if Ian plans to get back on the bike.

“Yes!” is his enthusiastic answer.

“The first night in the emergency room, I didn’t think he’d be able to walk - and he can walk now. That’s independence for people like this,” Tava said. “Any time that you can include them in something, or they feel that they have their own sense of independence, it’s huge for these people. He’ll never be able to drive, but he can ride a motorcycle. They treat him like a little brother - that makes a momma’s heart very, very full.”

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