Our People: Lucky cyclist in hospital helipad bid

Prebbleton’s Charlotte Ball, 15, was lucky not to be paralysed last year after a cycle crash. The Leeston Club rider is now taking part in a Maia Health Foundation campaign called ‘13 minutes’ to raise $1 million for a rooftop helipad at Christchurch Hospital. She spoke to Georgia O’Connor-Harding

RECOVERED: Prebbleton resident Charlotte Ball has not been put off her cycling inspite of her vertebrae being crushed last year in a Leeston cycling race pile-up accident.

Why did you decide to take part in the campaign?

I just wanted to make something good out of a bad situation. Try to find something good I can do out of it.

What are your thoughts on Christchurch Hospital not having a rooftop helicopter pad, in spite being one of the busiest trauma centres in the country?

I am surprised that they don’t since it is so busy. I thought they would have started fundraising for one much earlier on. I think that would elevate patient care if they had a helipad. That time can be really vital for someone’s recovery.

How has the campaign ‘13 minutes’ been going?

I think they are just over halfway. They have raised a lot. I guess if everyone puts in a bit, they will get there.

Last year’s crash happened so quickly but tell me about what you remember.

I remember going in for the sprint and everyone started tumbling in front of me. There was only a few people in front of me because I was in a good spot. I grabbed my brakes really hard but it was too late. I went into the back of the person in front of me. Then I ended up on the grass lying in the bush. I don’t recall how. But I remember just hearing the sound of people in pain. The sound of bikes hitting each other. I don’t think I will ever forget that sound. I was passing out a bit from the pain and my friend came over and my dad. People were coming and going. I remember a firefighter holding my head. I don’t really recall much more between him and the paramedics coming over. Next thing I was in the helicopter flying to the hospital.

Do you remember the trip in the ambulance from the helicopter landing in Hagley Park to Christchurch Hospital?

I know I was really confused. I remember being wheeled from the helicopter to the ambulance, and I just remember looking at the guy in the ambulance who was from the helicopter. I was staring at him. That’s all I remember. I was in and out of consciousness. One minute I was asleep and then I’d wake up and be like “what is happening.”’ I figured out what was happening once I saw mum and dad in the hospital.

What was the recovery like?

I was in hospital for nine nights. Recovery was extremely frustrating. I had just got back on my bike from recovering from surgery and I was now set back more months. I couldn’t do anything. All I wanted to do is go out and ride my bike or just walk around but I just couldn’t. I had heaps of help, cyclist Hamish Schreurs lent me a bike. Everyone was being so nice but it couldn’t really take away my frustration. Being in hospital the last few days was absolutely horrible. I also didn’t really know what was wrong with my bike.

They said it was broken but I didn’t know how bad it was or anything and they couldn’t tell me how long my recovery would be. They said I wouldn’t be able do anything for three months, which was real annoying because we go away at Christmas to Cromwell and they said I wouldn’t be able to go on the boat, on the wakeboard, or anything. I was annoyed about that.

When were you able to start cycling again?

While we were away. At the start of January, I got on my cousin’s bike. I was really slow for about 5km. It was tough but then I started properly riding. At the end of January, I was able to go for a decent ride. I have done a few races since the crash so I am riding properly now. I am not training with my coach yet. I am waiting a few more weeks.

Was there any risk of becoming paralysed from the crash?

The doctor said I was close to being put in Burwood Hospital but where it was positioned it was a stable fracture. They said I was lucky not to be paralysed and lucky not to be getting surgery. I think it depends on how you break it.

Do you view your life differently now having gone through this experience?

I definitely have a lot of respect for people who are paralysed or have a disability that affects them from doing different things. I can just see how frustrating it must be for them to go through that.

Have you stayed in touch with the others injured in the Leeston crash last year?

A few of them I go to school with. I have been out to Leeston with dad when I couldn’t race and then I have been out there since the crash and seen them all. A few of them did the race as well. I saw them there. I am pretty sure everyone is all good now.

You haven’t been put off cycling.

Definitely not.

What are your goals as a cyclist?

I am in my third year in cycling. I haven’t got too many expectations. I will see how this year goes. I think it would be really cool to represent New Zealand in a time trial event because I enjoy doing the time trials.
I enjoy how it is really social and being able to see improvements and your training paying off.

Are you mainly a road cyclist?

I don’t do mountain biking. I pretty much just do road cycling. I got taken out of track season this year because of my back and last year I got taken out because of my hip because I crashed on the track last season.

That was last season at the Denton Park Velodrome and I landed on my hip. They thought I had broken my pelvis.

Do you have a favourite place to cycle?

Probably my favourite ride is the Forrest Graperide in Blenheim.

It is very scenic and all the people are really nice. It is just a really fun bike ride.

What has it been like seeing yourself on billboards as one of the faces of the ‘13 minute’ campaign?

It is a bit embarrassing because my bus goes past it and the kids recognise me. But I mean it is a once in a lifetime thing.

What have your friends and family said about you taking part in the campaign?

They think it is pretty cool. They have supported me through it, seeing all the good and bad times.

What are you planning to do when you leave school?

I want to see where I go with cycling in under-20s and then I will see if I am good enough to make it to the Commonwealth Games. For a job, I want to do something in the food industry. I’m not too sure yet. I want to see where under-20s goes. You can race under-20s for school nationals.

•Maia Health Foundation has until Saturday to raise $1 million. So far the organisation has raised about $467,584. The Rata Foundation will match what the community raises dollar for dollar up to $500,000.

•Christchurch Hospital is one of the country’s busiest trauma centres and the only major hospital in New Zealand without a helipad
on site. The average ambulance transfer time to Christchurch Hospital after the helicopter has landed in Hagley Park is 13min. To make a donation go to www.13minutes.co.nz