Man who survived motorcycle wreck drives home message of awareness

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Rodney Kessler no longer takes a simple walk for granted.

Three years ago, doctors thought he may never walk normally again. July 29, 2016, Kessler was riding his motorcycle on Hwy. 24 when a pickup pulled out in front of him at the town of Perry.

"He thought I was making a right turn and I hit him just right in his front fender and slammed on top of his hood," Kessler recalled, saying he came to lying on his back on the pavement, staring up at the truck. "The doctor said that I was one tough guy taking a truck at 60 (miles per hour), but I think I got lucky more than I am tough."

Kessler, a Marine Corps veteran who served three tours in Iraq, was 36 years old at the time, and his daughter was just three-months old. He broke his left shoulder and wrist, fractured his right eye socket, had a partially collapsed lung, and broke his pelvis in two places.

"I was wheelchair bound almost four months," Kessler said of his recovery.

Dr. Shaun Steeby, an orthopedic surgeon specially trained in trauma care, and part of Stormont Vail's Trauma Team, was called into action when Kessler arrived in the emergency room.

"When people come in after a car accident or motorcycle accident, it's not usually just one thing that's injured," she said, so the team is addressing all those issues at once. "The most important thing in any trauma is that you have somebody there as soon as possible to evaluate those injuries. The longer you leave them, it can have longer detrimental effects on your outcome."

Dr. Steeby described the pelvis as an enclosed ring meant to protect everything inside and keep the body aligned. In Kessler, she said, the impact forced apart the front of that ring, and the ligaments on the side tore, causing his pelvis to rotate.

In some cases, Dr. Steeby says he was cleared to undergo surgery the next day. She put a plate across the front of his pelvis and two screws in the back to bring everything back together.

"It was helpful for him in terms of pain control. It was also helpful for him in terms of making sure that he didn't lose a lot of extra blood," she said.

One thing Kessler did not have was a head injury. He was wearing a helmet.

"The likelihood of a head injury in a motorcycle accident is very high, and they're challenging," Dr. Steeby said. "Once you have injured the head or injured the brain, you really can't come back from that without a lot of rehab and a lot of work."

Experts say helmets can reduce deaths from motorcycle wrecks 37 percent, and brain injuries 67 percent.

"Luck plays into it, but I think that wearing a helmet is a big deal when you ride motorcycles. It can really save your life," Kessler said.

So, too, can awareness - from all drivers. Per mile traveled, federal traffic data shows the number of deaths on motorcycles is nearly 28 times the number in cars. The number of motorcycles peaks in July.

"Look both ways and look a second time because motorcycles aren't as easy to see as cars. You gotta make sure you see that headlight coming down the road," he said.

Kessler is grateful he is able to deliver that message. He said great first responders, excellent medical care, and hard work in rehab and at home helped him defy expectations by returning to his job in commercial maintenance just nine months later. Now three years down the road, he feels no lingering effects.

"There is nothing more gratifying in the work that you do than seeing somebody be able to go back to doing the things they love," Dr. Steeby said.

"I can't tell I got hurt," Kessler said. "I feel like I'm a thousand percent lucky."