**This blog is kind of like a “Tim Tells All” in regards to my accident in Alabama. It includes the entire timeline of event of the last 3-4 weeks, as well as a bunch of videos and news clips from the hospitals (they should be hyperlinked). So it’s pretty lengthy. It’s been a pretty tough month for my family and I haven’t done a great job of updating everyone, so hopefully this helps fill in the gaps.**
And yes, that “Tim Tells All” is a reference to “The Bachelor”. I’m not ashamed
I started biking back in 2013. July 23rd, 2013 is the first biking activity I ever tracked. If I remember correctly, I attempted to go on a run the day previously. I made it maybe a quarter of a mile before I said “to hell with this” and walked home. The next day, I went on my first true bike ride. A 15.2 mile ride through my parents’ subdivision on a $150 bike from Walmart. I tracked it with the “Map My Run”, which most serious cyclists would say is a complete joke. Before I left for that ride, my mom was super cautious about me riding on the streets of Brook Hills. That ride and every ride afterwards, she wanted me to stay on bike paths, never to go near the ultra-dangerous, Chicago-suburb, sub-division side streets. As I biked more and more, I started venturing out to areas all around Chicago. There really wasn’t a bike path that I didn’t tackle in the Chicagoland area over the last 4 years. And unlike most serious road bikers, I did stick to primarily car-less trails. Despite what my mom might say, I recognized that she had an extremely valid point: alls it takes is one car, one distracted driver, to change or end your life. And let me tell you, I know that better than anyone right now.
I’m going to assume everyone reading this blog has read at least a handful of my previous posts. As a quick summary of the events leading up to the accident, I was 4,600 miles into my 11,000 mile ride. I had just entered state #11, Alabama, with about 2 days of biking left before reaching Atlanta. My last day of riding started out with me glued to Googlemaps. The previous day had ended on an extremely busy road in Philadelphia, MS, and I knew I did not want to be taking that any longer. Unfortunately, that meant trying to piece together smaller side roads that were often un-paved and extremely short. So navigation was a nightmare, but it was getting me from A to B, albeit at a much slower pace. I actually made a lunch stop about 15-mile from the Alabama border in a town called Shuqualak, MS (pronounced “Suger-lot”…at least I think so). There, I asked for some food recommendations from some folks at a gas station and they directed me to a guy who grills outside periodically. Sam and his buddy Bert whipped me up some of the most satisfying burgers and hot dogs I’ve ever had, and were just all-around awesome people. But that’s not my reason for bringing them up. They told me the story of a guy who rolled through their town a couple years prior on a cross-country tour. Only he was rolling on something slightly different than a bike: a horse and buggy. This gentleman was riding on the side of the road, climbing a hill, when he was struck by a semi-truck. He was in critical condition and rushed to a nearby hospital, as well as the horses who were rushed to a nearby vet. To this day, the guy has remained in eastern Mississippi, rehabbing and recovering from his accident, as have the horses. It was a humbling reminder of the danger in what I was doing, and a huge case of extremely unfortunate foreshadowing.
About 30 miles after I left Shuqualak, I reached the Alabama border and all hell broke out. A massive storm road in and I was getting down poured on. I pulled into a gas station at a local town and waited it out. Not 5 minutes after the rains succeeding and me taking off again, another storm rolls in. I was livid, once again screaming into the winds like I had done so often this trip. I realized that making it to my intended destination (Tuscaloosa, AL) would not be realistic and chose a new destination a bit shorter: Gilroy, AL. You might say hindsight is 20/20, but I would not make that route change if I could do it all over again. I was roughly 15 miles outside of Gilroy on AL 86. On these roads in the south, I spend the majority of my time staring into my rear view mirror as opposed to the road in front of me. With all of the roads having no shoulders, I knew my life was completely at the mercy of drivers seeing me on the road. I remember seeing a truck come around a bend as I was climbing an ever-so-slight incline (see the video ->). And that would be the last thing I remember from my bike for this trip.
My first memory after being struck was waking up staring up into the sky in the grass on the side of the road. It’s an extremely vague memory and I can’t tell you much of it, other than there were a handful of people huddled around my body. Most likely the paramedics and the person who hit me. I would later come to find out I was hit square-on by a Ford F-150 truck going 60mph. I was rushed by ambulance to DCH Medical Center in Tuscaloosa. Once again, a sick twist of irony that despite my re-routing for the day, I still ended up in Tuscaloosa. The accident happened at 4:10 in the afternoon, which means I probably arrived at DCH around 5-5:15. My memories from this hospital are slightly more vivid, but still a blur, so the chronology of the events below might be off. After arriving, I was placed on a metal table in the emergency room and “teams” of doctors would come work on me. Dental. Facial. Trauma. Spine. I put the word “teams” in quotations because most of the teams were really just one doctor. One of the first things I remember is one of the dental doctors coming in and using a pair of pliers to try to bend one of my front teeth back into place. I was on so main types of drugs I couldn’t tell you what country I was in, but even I had to laugh when she was plying my tooth back and forth, thinking “do you really think this is going to work?”. Sure enough, it didn’t. One of the facial doctor came in and put 9 stitches in my chin for a laceration I had there. At one point, the spinal doctor came in and talked to me. I don’t remember what he said exactly, but I remember asking him the severity of my injuries. He said that I was stable and none of my injuries were life-threatening, but that I had sustained some very serious back injuries. When I prodded for more details, I once again don’t remember hearing his full answer. The only words I remember were “paralysis”. That’s when I genuinely became terrified.
I would end up being at DCH until 3:00am the following morning. Almost 10 hours at that hospital and it honestly felt like 30 minutes. I laid face-up on that metal table the entire time. I was extremely uncomfortable and kept asking the nurse when I would actually be admitted to the hospital and be put in an actual bed. Eventually, after being given the work around a handful of times and nothing changing, I remember getting quite short with one of the nurses and borderline yelling. The gravity of the situation was finally registering mentally and emotions were taking over. I would later find out that they kept me on that table in fear of damaging my spine further. Later in the night, at about 2:30am, I was on the phone with my mom, sister, and Anne (my girlfriend). I’ll talk about them more in a second, but they were in the process of making the 10-hour drive from my home to get to the hospital. As I’m on the phone with them, one of the facial doctors comes in and says he needs to put 5 stitches in my lip for another laceration. He said these weren’t as big of a deal and he didn’t need to use any anesthetics. Tip for all of you future doctors: don’t do that. He started to sew me up through the lip and I am screaming in pain. Just screaming as loud as I can into the phone. I can’t even fathom what that was like for my family to hear as they’re driving through the night. It was terrifying. Just terrifying. I don’t know why they did that, but at the time it just seemed like another step through hell.
Throughout that night, the nurses and doctors would come wipe the blood off of of my face. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they were wiping blood for probably an hour. There was just a sickening amount of it. Eventually, the spinal doctor told me something to the extent that my injuries were too severe and that they wanted to transfer me to UAB Hospital in Birmingham, where they had the resources, surgeons, and level 1 Trauma Center to take care of me. He said they were going to prep me for airlift there immediately. In another weird/sick twist of irony, we were having severe weather in the area, which meant airlifting was not an option. This would end up being a blessing in disguise, as an airlift could and would have cost upwards of $30,000. Who the hell would have thought the weather would actually do me a favor (although I would argue it was actually trying to keep me at the less-equipped hospital) Anyways, I was taken by ambulance over to UAB at about 3:00am.
During the initial hours, I was in no condition to contact any of my family back home. My mom, dad, and sister (Heather) were out to dinner that night for my parent’s anniversary. My mom had used the Find my Friends app on iPhones to track my progress each day of this trip. During dinner, she pulled out her phone and turned a pale shade of white. She immediately texted me to see why I was showing up a hospital. Not two minutes later, she received the last phone call any parent wants to receive from the doctors at DCH. They immediately scrambled to get out of the restaurant as Heather started looking up the first flights to Birmingham. The soonest flights weren’t until the next morning, which would be an issue since I needed to have back surgery ASAP. The only option was for them to drive through the night. Heather called my girlfriend, Annie, who immediately drove to my parents place from Chicago. Driving 10 hours through the night after your son/brother/boyfriend was just in a life-altering accident is another level of hell I can’t even fathom. As you’ve probably seen and come to find out, hell is a pretty popular theme with the past 4 weeks.
The next morning, my family made it to UAB Hospital at about 7:15am. I don’t remember this, but I must have been in pretty good spirits because my first comment to them was “you should have brought Chris [my brother]…we could have taken the 2017 Christmas card photo.” Later that morning, the spinal surgeon and his team introduced themselves and explained my condition and his plan of action. The most serious injury was a burst fracture in L1. To address this, I needed immediate spinal fusion surgery to fuse T11 to L3, a total of 5 vertebrae. He would install 2 rods and 10 screws in the spine to hold the spine together, and then extra bone graft is placed over the rods and screws. Other minor injuries include additional minor spinal fractures that would heal on their own, minor fractures in my cheek, face lacerations, and a bunch of dental damage.
Thank God for my bike helmet. The thing was smashed to high hell, but I sustained no brain/head injuries other than some minor bleeding exterior of the skull; an injury so minor that the doctors hardly mentioned it.
The helmet most likely saved my life. If you know anybody that doesn’t wear one while biking, please share this story with them. It’s honestly suicide not wearing one.
The surgery occurred at 3:00pm later that afternoon. Honestly, it was probably the most terrified I had been thus far (or at least a tie with the first night at DCH). I remember them wheeling me down to receive anesthesia and I was extremely scared. Right before my family and Anne had to separate from me, I remember my eyes watering. I’m not a “tough guy” by any means, but I just don’t cry. I can’t remember the last time I cried. But at that moment I was genuinely extremely scared. The surgeon was wonderful, extremely competent, and extremely qualified, but in the end, he was still operating on my spine and as he told us, there was a chance I would emerge from this surgery without being able to walk. That’s a thought worth tearing up about.
The following 7 days in the hospital were pretty miserable. Sleeping is basically pointless. The nurses and doctors would wake me every 2 hours to give me medication or change my IV or take my vitals. Not that it really mattered, as I was usually too uncomfortable to sleep at night anyways. The one time I would be able to sleep is when they gave me one of the pain meds via IV. I have no idea what it was, but I would feel an intense wave of relaxation almost immediately and it would allow me to fall asleep if I timed it correctly. So I had something to “look forward to” every 6 hours. These same pain meds also caused my body to basically go into shambles. I couldn’t go to the bathroom. Everything would back up in my stomach and cause extreme pain. Like to the point where it was significantly more painful than any feeling in my back. No matter what kind of medication they gave me to try to jumpstart my digestive and urinary systems, nothing would work. My family even tried to help by bringing me fried chicken and Taco Bell, which didn’t help either. But considering I would eat $13 worth of TBell and then bike 100 miles without an issue, I wasn’t that surprised that those tacos didn’t do anything. But through all of this, my family was by far the only reason it went as well as it did.
They didn’t leave my side. 10-12 hours a day of just sitting in this hospital room. And I obviously wasn’t the most talkative person, so I’m sure the time went by slowly. Annie even slept on the couch in my room at night so that I was never alone. I owe them so much. Because waking up at 2:00am in pain sucks, but there is something extremely comforting being able to look over and see your girlfriend sleeping there. Or considering her couch was arguably more uncomfortable than my post-surgery condition, she would usually be awake as well.
A couple of the B4B guys, Rex and Adam, also scrambled to fly out to Birmingham as quickly as possible when they heard the news. Like I said, the first night alone at DCH was the most terrifying experience of life. No type of solo travel had made me feel “alone” like that night did. Imagining what it would be like to feel like that everyday had all of my family and friends not come down for me is honestly my worst nightmare. I owe them everything and this accident has truly put it into perspective how loved I am.
My recovery and hospital rehab was going well enough where the doctors felt I would be discharged on Thursday, just one week after the accident. Obviously, we were all ecstatic to hear that, as none of us had any idea how long we would be down in Alabama. Initially, I didn’t think I would be able to sit in a car for a 10-hour drive back home. So we booked a plane ticket for Annie and I. However, I vastly over-estimated my back strength at that point in my recovery. I couldn’t sit up for more than about 15-20 minutes before my back would succumb to overwhelming pain and I’d have to lie down. After sitting in the hospital lobby for all of 20 minutes doing an interview with a local TV station, I was on the brink of a breakdown. I was freaking out mentally and my back was in a ton of pain. That’s when we realized that there was no way I’d be able to withstand being in an airport and sitting on a 2.5 hour flight. Earlier that week, a man with an RV reached out via Facebook, offering to drive me back up to Chicago. I initially thought it was just an extremely nice gesture but never thought I’d take him up on it. But after that interview in the hospital lobby, I didn’t see any other way I would be able to get home. The man was an absolutely fantastic guy who was just looking to do a good deed. Thanks to him, I was able to lie comfortably in a bed for the ride back to Chicago. He stayed the night in his RV at my parent’s house, and then drove 10 hours back down to Alabama. Oh, and a small side note: all of this transpired as Tropical Storm Cindy was pounding the southern states. In fact, Brian actually picked us up 45 minutes earlier in the morning to get a head start on the storm. Good thing he did, as that storm would bring a tornado that hit 5 miles away from my mom and sister’s hotel room.
Getting home was just the most comforting feeling of the whole incident. There was just something so soothing about being in my home bed. My stomach was still in shambles and I still couldn’t sit up for more than a half hour, but I was at ease. My rehab moving forward was extremely straightforward, especially for the immediate next couple of weeks: rest. I just need to rest. I had a handful of dentist appointments to have that infamous “bendy” middle tooth extracted (the one that the “dental doctor” at DCH thought could be plied back into place), as well as have some temporary teeth made. I have to wait 3 months for the bones in my jaw to heal from the missing teeth. After that, the ortho surgeon will drive the posts for my permanent, titanium implants, after which I have to wait another 3 months for my gums and tissues to mold with the posts. So I’ll have these temporary teeth for at least another 6 months until my permanent implants can be screwed in. The temporary “flippers” are a great party trick and super addicting to play with, so no big deal in my eyes! I see a back doctor up here in Chicago this week. That’s a very big appointment, as he’ll do a full scan of my back and see how the fusion is healing and generating new bone tissue. I also received an electric stimulator that is used to help expedite the bone growth. It’s this little battery pack that has two wires/patches that attach to my back. The device sends low-voltage electrical impulses to the fusion area. The electricity somehow accelerates the bone generation process. I have to wear it 24/7 for at least the next 3 months, most likely longer. It’s not too big of a deal, and you can’t even remotely feel the electrical impulses. I do have to swap out the pads/wires/batteries on a daily basis which gets kind of old. Also, the wires are kind of long, so I end up accidentally “tugging” the pads off of my back, which is an annoyance if I don’t have new pads on hand. But anything to quicken this healing process is something I’m 100% on board with.
My biggest struggle is mentally. I’m bored out of my mind. Spending every day stuck on the couch or in bed is really eating up on me. I just feel so unproductive, like I’m wasting so much time. Obviously, I realize that it’s a huge necessity in the rehab process. Also, the daily biking schedule is still hanging on my parent’s refrigerator. Everyday I walk by and look at where I should be at on the trip. What city I should be biking to. What game I should be watching. And it’s honestly heart breaking,
and really eats me up inside. I know it’s a small miracle that I’m alive, and I need to punch myself every now and then to remind myself that I should feel grateful, not upset. But even then, it doesn’t prevent my mind from wandering and asking myself “what would I be doing right now if it wasn’t for that driver?”.
With that being said, I’m obviously proud of what I have accomplished personally. I know that 4,600 miles is an insane amount of ground to cover, and to bike through the desert and over the Rocky mountains and through the hills of the PNW is an accomplishment that most will never even fathom, let alone experience. And the people I got to meet. Oh man, it makes me so happy. Just the most interesting folks, from Tammy and Kevin in Yelm, WA to Ed and Diane in San Diego, to the Collins Family in Dallas, and everyone in between, I had the most fascinating adventure possible. But it’ll be tough for me to completely accept it for the accomplishment that it is. Instead, I’m afraid I’ll always look at those 4,600 miles as being just 10/30 the way there; always wondering what other incredible people I would have met in those final 6,400 miles. It sucks, but it’s just the nature of my personality. To have invested 2.5 years of my life planning and completing this ride, biking anything other than the full journey just feels incomplete in my eyes. And it really sucks because I know I could do it. The trip has always been a mental game, and I had proven to myself that I had the mental capacity to overcome it. The hardest legs were behind me. The hardest terrain was in the rear view mirror. If it weren’t for external factors, I would be finishing this.
One of the greatest parts of this entire situation has been the outpouring of support from literally everyone: fiends, family, B4B supporters, people I met along the ride, and complete strangers. My phone was shattered in the incident, but when I eventually got home and got it fixed, I woke up to messages from 230+ of my friends and people I met on the trip. It was insane and just so uplifting from a mental standpoint. I can’t count the people who sent me cards and gift baskets and Taco Bell gift cards (I’m working on making a dent in those, but it’s a lot of tacos) and I just can’t thank you all enough. It’s meant everything, especially now that I’m trying to put all of that lost weight back on (I went from 190 to 166…yikes). Some of my closest friends back home got me a Nintendo Switch, which has been an absolute life saver in keeping my mind pre-occupied for a huge majority of the day.
A bunch of news outlets took interest in the story, including NBC and ABC. Comcast Sportsnet took extreme interest, and are currently working on a 30-60 minute documentary about the trip and cause that will air in September. Working on that has been particularly fun, as their filming crew is just an absolutely wonderful group of people and have truly invested themselves in the mission. They’re honestly just as determined as I am to hit that fundraising goal. The Cubs and Brewers organizations both sent extrmely nice packages liked with memorabilia (big thanks to Stoltz). The White Sox are coming to VISIT me next week. They won’t tell me anymore details other than they’re coming to stop by and pay me a visit. I’m outrageousky excited for that. Also, word of the accident and cause had really taken off in the Birmingham community. My supposed-to-be host for the next night caught wind and stopped in for a visit. Nurses at the hospital were coming up and mentioning how they heard the story and just felt terrible. A ton of random strangers in the area offered to come help out at the hospital, knowing that I didn’t have any family in the area. And it was such a fitting ending. Prior to what people might think, from a personal standpoint, this trip has always been about the people for me. I’m never going to remember each day of riding (albeit I’ll probably remember the snowstorms), but I could honestly go day by day and recite all of the people who I met or bought me dinner or showed me around their town or housed me at that specific instance. Ironically, it’s such a perfect way to end a trip like this. A trip that was built completely on the kindness and generosity of complete strangers ends with just an overwhelming outpouring of support from those same people. It really was just beautiful, and I can’t thank everybody enough.
The last, and most important thing I wanted to touch on though, is that the cause is FAR from over. I’m obviously pretty heartbroken about the trip and how it ended from a personal standpoint, but there is a huge silver lining. More people than ever are reading and hearing about B4B’s mission. The cause and reasons for the trip are spreading like wildfire. It honestly sounds somewhat crazy, but getting this accident has hopefully sparked something bigger.
More people than ever are determined to help fund these scholarships. And that would make everything that has happened up to this point so worth it. The end goal was to see the last home game at Wrigley Field and present two deserving kids with a life-changing scholarship. And that end goal is still happening. September 30th at Wrigley is going to be an absolutely incredible day. It’s the biggest thing motivating me to keep working at this rehab and get into baseball-throwing shape.
So please continue to spread the word about B4B, because while this year’s ride is over, the cause lives on.
– Tim Lalla
P.S. The Denver kids clinic is on July 22nd!
I might not be leading a workshop or throwing any BP, but I’ll be out there with the rest of the B4B guys, so stop on by!
Sloans Lake Park 11am!