South Carolina

Cyclist who ‘died twice’ thanks emergency responders

In this Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019 photo, Clear Springs, S.C., Fire Rescue Chief Mike Huppmann, left, and Ben McCall, center, meet with emergency responders from the station as well as paramedics from Prisma Health and Greenville County EMS to celebrate the one-year anniversary of McCall's survival of a catastrophic bike crash on Woodruff Road. The motorist who hit McCall was never identified s.
In this Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019 photo, Clear Springs, S.C., Fire Rescue Chief Mike Huppmann, left, and Ben McCall, center, meet with emergency responders from the station as well as paramedics from Prisma Health and Greenville County EMS to celebrate the one-year anniversary of McCall's survival of a catastrophic bike crash on Woodruff Road. The motorist who hit McCall was never identified s. Anna B. Mitchell

Ben McCall's blood pressure had dropped dangerously low, his helmet was bashed in, and more than 30 bones were broken.

Lying on a rural, two-lane section of Woodruff Road nearly 20 miles from the nearest emergency room, McCall's chances for survival were low. The avid biker had been hit by a car after dropping his 12-year-old son off for soccer practice at the nearby MeSA soccer complex on Anderson Ridge Road. It was Oct. 15, 2018, and McCall would spend the next three months in the hospital.

But first he had to survive the next 20 minutes. His heart stopped twice.

"I'm a stubborn man," McCall said.

On Sunday (Nov. 3), McCall went back to where the collision happened just over a year ago and met up with the group of people who saved his life. He had questions about what happened that day. Gathering at the Clear Springs fire station, the first-responders, for their part, got a chance to marvel at the man standing before them. McCall and his wife, Jackie, gave each of the men a coin stamped with the words:

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have not only saved the life of a man but a father, husband, son, brother, teammate, friend, co-worker and more. For this, I am forever grateful."

"He died twice," Jackie said. "He was intubated double chest tubes on the scene."

Clear Springs Fire Rescue Chief Mike Huppmann managed the accident scene a year ago. He has been responding to emergencies for more than 30 years.

"Based on the severity of the injuries," Huppmann said, "it's probably one of the most critical patients that any of us had ever dealt with. It's a huge thing for the guys to see him."

McCall's son, Devin, had 90-minute soccer practices on Monday nights, and McCall usually took that time to ride his bike. McCall, an IT specialist for the Greenville County school district for 12 years, was a competitive cyclist and trained at least three times a week. He had a blinking light on his bike, and at some point during his usual 20-mile ride, he tried to cross Woodruff Road.

That's when a car hit him.

"I was on Woodruff Road less than 100 yards," McCall said. "It was always evenings. I would jump on, jump off. And I guess this time ... The only thing I can think is he was trying to go around me and didn't know I was turning. No idea. Maybe he was playing with his phone. Distracted driving."

Jackie was at home. She had picked up their daughter, Payton, from gymnastics and was making dinner. Devin had just finished soccer practice.

"That's when we first got the call from Devin saying Daddy didn't show up," Jackie said, "and he'd already been trying to use the coach's phone to call Ben and couldn't get him. And I said, 'Well, Daddy's phone probably just died or maybe he's out of range and can't get it.' But I knew. I knew something was wrong."

A fellow soccer mom took Devin home, and when Jackie picked the boy up, she got a call from the soccer field letting her know a cyclist was getting rushed to Greenville Memorial Hospital.

"So I immediately plugged in Greenville, the ED, to my GPS, and it took us to the scene," Jackie said. "It took us to the accident scene. They had all the big lights out and they had everything roped off with tape. I had both kids in the back seat, and all I wanted to do was follow my GPS because I didn't know where I was."

She got out of her car and asked emergency personnel if she could turn right. She needed to get to the hospital, she explained.

"And I saw Ben's bike to the left, and I said, 'That's my husband. I need to go to the hospital.' And they let me through the tape."

Coming to McCall's aid that day were three paramedics, 12 firefighters, a flight paramedic and a flight nurse who worked in tandem to clear his airway, restore his blood pressure, push air into his collapsed lungs and keep his heart beating. The lower portion of McCall's spinal cord had folded over, and doctors at first thought he would never walk again.

"The guys said he was like in a ball when they got to him," Jackie McCall said.

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The responders were from Greenville County EMS, the Clear Springs fire station and, later, from the Med Trans helicopter from Prisma Health, said Aaron Dix, executive director of emergency medical services for Prisma Health. Dix was one of the volunteer responders from Clear Springs that day, too.

"We don't typically see people with his level of injuries that far from a trauma center survive," Dix said. "We have to get them to the hospital. There they get extraordinary care with outcomes we've never seen before, but you have to give them a viable patient."

McCall received blood in the field, Dix said, and not many emergency response systems can do that. Medics had to keep enough blood circulating to McCall's brain, lungs, kidney and heart to keep him alive until emergency room doctors at the hospital could stop the bleeding internally. On the day of McCall's accident, the responding helicopter was carrying blood products such as packed blood cells and plasma. By January 2020, all Prisma ambulances will be carrying blood products, Dix said.

"If you are bleeding massively from the leg, you can put a tourniquet on the leg and stop the bleeding," Dix said. "But in our environment, you can't stop it internally."

Among the reasons McCall wanted to revisit the site of his accident Sunday was to draw attention again to the unsolved mystery of who was driving the car that hit him last year.

The vehicle that hit him was, troopers said at the time, traveling at a high rate of speed. Another motorist who came upon the accident called 911, but the driver who hit McCall left the scene.

McCall can no longer ride a bike. Injuries to his spine prevent him from stooping over and looking up. He also has difficulty using his fingers and gripping. For work, he uses an ergonomic mouse. McCall also suffered a traumatic brain injury; his first memories after the crash are from Christmas of 2018. Until then, he woke up every day not remembering the day before.

"He had a great support system, but at the same time he was internally strong," Jackie said.

Jackie said her husband never spent a day alone during his care, first at Greenville Memorial Hospital and then at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. He was released from the hospital in January 2019, and the family has been learning to adjust. Friends raised nearly $50,000 to remodel their home — enlarging the bathroom, adding handrails near the toilet, installing a standing shower with a seat, and all new flooring on the ground floor with no transitions.

"It's frustrating as a man not being able to use your hands," McCall said.

The vehicle that struck McCall was a four-door red sedan. Anyone with information about the incident should call CrimeStoppers at 23-Crime.

"I would like to know his perspective, obviously," McCall said of the motorist who struck him. "I mean it's not going to take away from my injuries that I will have to deal with the rest of my life. But, you know, I believe in karma."

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