It’s been 3,383 days since Stephanie Magner accidentally drove her car into a group of cyclists in Germany. She was 19 at the time and had only recently qualified to get her driver’s licence. Around a left turn she went, drifting slightly to the right, and that’s when the damage was done. Amy Gillett died at the scene and five of her team-mates were injured.
Many of us have heard about the accident. It prompted the formation of the Amy Gillett Foundation which has been an active campaigner for safe cycling over the past nine and a bit years.
The other women involved in the accident survived but their lives would be different from that day forth.
Last Sunday, at the end of the ‘Spring Cycle’ – a community event in which over 9,000 cyclists took to the streets of Sydney and enjoyed riding bikes in perfect weather conditions – I arrived at Olympic Park after completing the 55km course with my two children. We collected our finisher medals and cooled down with thousands of others who had made the journey from North Sydney. On the stage upon our arrival was Katie Brown. She spoke to the MC about how great it was to see so many people out riding their bikes.
The intention was that Brown would participate in the ride but only days before the event she was forced to reconsider. She had a stroke five days beforehand. It slowed her down but still she had hoped to be part of Spring Cycle.
Katie Brown was one of the cyclists Magner hit 3,383 days ago. The ramifications of that incident continue. The stroke was a relatively minor one but her neurologist believes it to be a direct effect of the accident in Germany in 2005.
She told me about the stroke on Sunday and tomorrow Katie will visit her neurologist (again) for a follow-up consultation to see if she can find out what exactly happened last week. “I’m a bit slow,” she laughed, shrugging off the incident, “but that happens from time to time.”
We caught up again today, via Skype, to find out more about the stroke and the other longer-term effects of the horrific day in Germany.
(Interview by Rob Arnold)
Click the link below to listen to the exchange on SoundCloud, and/or read the transcript below to find out more about Katie Brown’s story…
RIDE: I’m here with Katie Brown and we’re just going to cover an interesting topic. She was one of the girls who was in the crash that involved Amy Gillett on July 18, 2005. Just last week [she] had a stroke and I’m going to have a quick chat with Katie [to] find out if the accident in Germany nine years ago is one of the things that led to the stroke. Do you know if that’s the case?
Katie Brown: “At the moment, they’re not 100 percent certain on what caused it. I do get severe migraines though, which paralyse the left side of my body, after the accident. So, every time I get a migraine, I’m paralysed. That was caused by the accident. [The stroke] itself… they’re not 100 per cent certain just yet.”
When you talk about the paralysis, are you completely incapacitated?
“Yes. I literally can’t move anything on my left side. I also can’t speak, or open my mouth, or open my eyes.”
And how long does that last Katie?
“The paralysis lasts about 24 hours and then it’s a pretty severe headache for the next three days after that.”
How many of those episodes have you had?
“In the [almost] 10 years, I’d say I was getting one at least once every two months. Quite regularly really. But I used to go to bed with a headache and wake up with a headache and it just used to form, over time, a more severe headache.”
We’re reminded that accidents may happen a long time ago but the ramifications last a long time.
“They certainly do… [the medicos] were originally more concerned about the obvious injuries and may have neglected – well, not neglected but may have just missed a different type of injury.”
What does your neurologist call it? Does it have a name, this sporadic paralysis?
“Ah, you’ve stumped me. It does have a name but to be honest I have no idea [now]. I do find out more tomorrow [after another consultation] and will know what exactly happened because migraines – the severe migraines that I have – have a technical name [they] are like mini-strokes. And you only have a certain amount of mini-strokes before you have a full stroke.
“That’s my understanding of it.”
The episode last week, is that your first ‘full’ stroke?
“The episode last week was quite unusual. They’re trying to work out whether it was a full stroke or what else it could have been because basically I’m still really slow, and [hindered] on my left side. I can walk and I can move but everything is still quite heavy.
“It’s like being filled with cement on one side.”
It must be debilitating, especially as a mother of three young children. Obviously you’ve had long ramifications from the accident but you have been able to have three kids. Can you explain how old they are?
“Axel is six. And Ivy and Zara are three, they’re twins. They’ve had their fair share of illness.”
Were they nice and early like a lot of twins are?
“Yeah. The girls were 31 weeks, and they wanted to come at 21 weeks… so I was in the hospital from then up until 31 weeks – on bed rest. And then they were in hospital for another eight or nine weeks after that.”
And everyone is healthy now?
“Yeah. They’re three so hopefully everyone has grown out of it.”
Sorry to go back to ‘that’ accident… a lot of people know about it but at the time that it happened, what was your diagnosis from the medicos in Germany?
“My left leg was meant to be amputated on site because it was basically hanging off and it was up under my right armpit.
“I shattered my left arm and cut up my right arm.
“I had a collapsed lung.
“I broke my right leg – my femur and my tibia.
“It was pretty hard because [afterwards] I could weight-bare on my left leg – that was meant to be amputated, that they saved – and I couldn’t bend it. And I could bend my right left that was broken but couldn’t weight-bare on it.
“Mine were, in the overall [scheme of things] were pretty superficial injuries that people could see.
“They didn’t really do a lot of brain scans and things like that because they were just trying to, obviously, save my leg and save everything else – me – so they looked for the obvious things.”
I’m sure you’re absolutely tired of talking about that but I still see you at the Spring Cycle in Sydney on Sunday encouraging people to get out on their bikes and ride. It’s quite heartening to hear you talk so positively about the act of cycling…
“Absolutely though – it’s so important. If you are riding and you’ve got children, your children will see that you’re out riding so they want to be out riding. And it just promotes such a healthier future for everyone.”
You’re still a big proponent for cycling, obviously…
“Yeah, I am. However, I will delay Axel… he wants to race but I’m trying to put it off a little bit.
“I started racing when I was four and I didn’t finish until I was 26. So I think he needs to go through the stages of team sports and things like that for him to figure out what he really wants to do instead of me forcing him into something that I’ve loved.”
(Note: Katie has told RIDE she will explain her latest diagnosis after her visit to the neurologist on 23 October.)
For more about the Amy Gillett Foundation, visit: www.amygillett.org.au