Paralyzed on a Wyoming hill, Billings man returns by bike in pursuit of his dream

BILLINGS – “I could hear the bike running behind me, and I was like, ‘Derek, get up’, and I couldn’t.”

For Derek Riddle, climbing is life.

“A little bit of motocross here and there, but not too much,” said Riddle. “I have a huge passion for rock climbing. I want to go rock climbing right now.”

It has been a year and a half since Riddle’s last ascension. In late January 2020, Riddle wanted to show off one of his favorite places – the Cowley Monsters in Wyoming – so the family loaded up and headed south, even his stepmother and RN, Summer.

“My dad said to me, ‘Never get on a motorcycle.’ He was terrified of them because a friend of his was crippled and died on one of them, ”Summer said. “So I was scared of motorcycles and still am. I tried to fit in. I don’t fit into this diet with Derek, but I support him.”

Photo courtesy of Andrew Riddle

Derek Riddle has been participating in hill climbs since 2013.

She had no choice – the Riddle’s are an off-road family. Almost everyone had their own ride that day except Derek.

“I broke two of my bikes that year, and I borrowed a bike that day – I had never ridden a bike – and took off as usual, running to the hill, ”Derek said. “I did a big nose-up on a 4 to 5 foot ledge, and it scared me off.”

“I was on a hill parallel to the one Derek was on,” Summer said. “I heard: ‘Call the police. Call 911, “and I just saw a body.”

Derek had fractured his C5 vertebrae and couldn’t feel anything under his neck. Almost any mind in this situation would start to race, but Derek remained calm for a reason.

“I knew my kids were there and I had to be strong for them at the time,” he said. “They thought I could pass, and I said, ‘I’m not dead yet. Come here and talk to me. “

Derek Riddle Panel

Photo courtesy of the Riddle family

Derek Riddle is lying on a back panel after fracturing his C5 vertebrae in a rock climbing accident in Cowley, Wyoming.

Help arrived shortly after to transport Derek down the hill and into a LIFE Flight helicopter. An hour later, Riddle was at St. Vincent Hospital in Billings getting ready for surgery with Dr. Louis Ross.

“He had what we call incomplete C5 / C6 paralysis,” Ross said. “This is someone you worry about what the outcome will look like to him.”

The broken bone in Riddle’s neck was putting pressure on his spinal cord. Relieving him was Ross’ main concern.

“My best expectation and best hope in a situation like his was that he was going to recover, get to where he could maybe walk again, at least with a little help,” said Ross.

“They just wanted me to move my toes and I couldn’t,” Derek said. “But deep down inside I could feel them. So I told them to give me two weeks to a month and I’m going to get out of here.”

But suddenly everything changed and Riddle had to win a different battle first.

“My lungs started to fill with pneumonia and I had to really fight,” Derek said.

“Most scared I have ever been – we were in intensive care and I was pushing on (Derek’s) chest because he couldn’t spit out what he needed to cough,” Summer said. “Kelly – her father – sucked him in, and (Derek) just came back. I can’t believe it.”

It showed everyone Derek’s ability to fight. After that came an even bigger step.

“My little brother Andrew felt my Achilles tendon move. It was one of the most exciting feelings ever, he told me,” Derek said. “From there I started to brush my toes, my ankles, I started lifting my legs off the bed an inch or two.

“I was trying so hard to lift my legs, and I wouldn’t be able to. I would lay there and get frustrated, then the simplest feeling of ‘move your leg’. Flick. It was a lot more. easy than I thought.

On Valentine’s Day, Derek was transferred to Spokane, Washington to begin an intense rehabilitation process. Then came March 15, 40 days after the accident.

“We went to see him every weekend. We were seeing new progression,” Summer said. “And then he gets up and starts walking, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God! Derek, you weren’t lying when you said you were going to get out of here!'”

Derek Riddle walking

Photo courtesy of the Riddle family

Derek Riddle is released from St. Luke’s Hospital in Spokane after a long rehabilitation process.

Derek hasn’t stopped ticking boxes since.

“Six months to the day I was able to ride off-road motorcycles – I ride off-road motorcycles,” he said. “A year to the day I went on a run with some of my kids and nieces and beat them.”

Now there is only one thing left.

“It was really tempting to be in a hill climb, because I just want to run so badly. It takes about a year and a half to two years for it to heal completely, and I don’t want to spoil it (Dr Ross’) masterpiece here, but I think after that maybe it will be. “

“Very remarkable and unusual,” Ross said of Derek’s recovery. “This is one as a surgeon, my colleagues and I, when we see this happening, we talk about it. It is heartwarming. It is totally worth it.”

Derek Riddle Dr Louis Ross


Derek Riddle (right) and Dr. Louis Ross pose for a photo at the St. Vincent Neurosurgery Center.

SAINTS Donation Day 2021 will benefit the Saint-Vincent Center of Excellence in Neuroscience this year. The money raised will help support several improvements to the clinic and the program, including a remodel of the neuroscience center and the construction of a state-of-the-art multiple sclerosis infusion center, increasing capacity, comfort , access to healthcare and technology.

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