This Cyclist Is Back Riding Just Weeks After a Freak Attack at a Medical Clinic
Dr. Eric Reed, a pediatrician with the Sharp Rees-Stealy medical group, arrived at work on April 28 after an early ride in the hilly La Mesa neighborhood in San Diego, California. After weeks of rain in the area, he and some other cyclists in the La Mesa Rouleurs group were finally able to get a solid morning session in.
But Reed’s day turned out to be anything but normal.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were outdoor clinics set up at the Sharp Rees-Stealy La Mesa medical clinic, where Reed worked, to allow patients to be screened, and to help patients maintain a social distance. As Reed was moving from seeing children in the indoor clinic to the outdoor clinic, where he tested patients for coronavirus, there was a patient who attacked a security guard. Reed stepped in to help the security guard, and the attacker then turned on him.
“He attacked a security guard in such a way that the guard was incapacitated and on the ground. I thought that if I didn’t intervene, the guard could have a lasting injury or worse. But then I became the focus of this man’s rage and fear, and I sustained a flexion injury to my neck. Fortunately, before I became a victim further, the security guard came to and subdued the attacker.”
Reed was put in a neck collar to stabilize his cervical spine and immediately taken to the trauma center. After a CT scan, he was diagnosed with three fractures of his spine.
At the time of the attack, Reed’s wife Stefany was hiking with their three children. She said she had her phone off, “working really hard to try to be calm” in the midst of the global pandemic. “The second I heard his voice, I could hear something really bad [had happened]. His voice was shaky, and he said, ‘I have been assaulted get to me now.’”
Meanwhile, Reed was beginning to assess his injuries. “I noticed that I could wiggle my toes, and I could move my knees, and that I was breathing on my own,” Reed said. “I was really feeling very fortunate, and I thought, ‘Wow I am going to be able to keep riding!’”
Two days later, on April 30, he had titanium rods installed along the back of his spine to connect the C5-6-7 with screws going into the vertebrae where there was enough undamaged tissue to secure them. But his recovery was far from easy.
Stefany, who was unable to see her husband because of COVID-19 restrictions, said Reed was in “so much pain” that night. “I was trying to listen to him on the phone even though we weren’t really talking, just breathing and trying to get through it.”
However, a silver lining from the experience—as a patient, Reed saw the hospital where he worked from an entirely new perspective.
“When I began to experience what it was like for the men and women who are nurses to be completely present and to be that source of family and light and all of that, I am starting to remember all of those things, and I’m flooded with a lot of gratitude,” Reed said.
Ten days after his injury, Reed’s surgeon cleared him to ride anything that doesn’t move forward or back—and made it very clear that he is not allowed to ride on any gravel or do any mountain biking for at least a year. Upon hearing that news, Reed’s former neighbor and riding buddy, Mike Yip, immediately made the trip down to San Diego from Orange County, California, where had recently moved.
“Mike came to visit to check on me and brought food. He was kind enough to set up my old trainer and make some modifications. The next morning I was back on the trainer.”
To keep his posture correct and safe, Reed imagined a pole running from the base of his spine up through my body and out through the top of my head. And he said the atrophy of his neck muscles impeded his indoor riding at first. But while his first ride might have only been 20 miles, far less than his usual weekend epics, “for my heart, my spirit, and my legs it felt like heaven,” he said.
Since being given the green light to get on the trainer, Reed has been riding every day, even joining Zwift’s Tour for All. Stefany was shocked to see the speed with which her husband returned to his passion, but she admired his determination.
“You can’t keep a good man down. ... When I am asleep, he is down there [riding] at 5 a.m. He says, ‘my neck is broken, not my legs; it’s just my neck, so I can move my legs,’” she said.
Reed is doing 20-60 minutes a day of at-home physical therapy and two sessions a week with a therapist to work on his back mobility, to compensate for his neck being in a brace, and future loss of mobility due to the fusion at C5-6-7. “I am making good progress with this, and it gives me another outlet and [area of] focus,” Reed said.
Since the attack, Reed’s family have benefited from huge amounts of generosity, especially during the early days when Reed needed almost full-time care day and night. “We were getting so much support, people were just amazing,” Stefany said. “People I had never met before were asking, ‘Do you need your lawn mowed or someone to walk your dog, how can I help?’”
Additionally, Reed’s friends set up a GoFundMe page to help purchase their friend a top-of-the-line Wahoo KICKR bike and accessories, so that he can continue to train indoors. But the company stepped in and delivered Reed one of the bikes, and he now has the exact setup to ensure maximum comfort.
In the wake of his injuries, Reed remains extremely positive, but he does not yet know the full extent of his future limitations. He acknowledges that he is “working through the grief too, but being that this injury was sustained through an active choice and not something that happened to me as a victim, this is not as big as many have expected.
“Every morning, I wake up, and—it sounds hokey, but—it is 24 new hours, and I am going to get on the bike, and feel alive and grateful, and if I don’t accomplish anything else it’s fine.”
Reed has completed the MS 150 charity ride the last three years, and he typically competes in local gravel races during the year. But with intense biking out for at least the next year (and with many cycling races canceled due to COVID-19), Reed’s and the La Mesa Rouleurs do a Zwift ride every Sunday and video-chat with each other.
He’s also slowly returning to work, working at the hospital three mornings a week.
“Honestly, [I feel] happy to be alive, to get on the trainer every day, to set small goals and achieve them. I’m stoked to do virtual social rides with my buddies, and grateful to take this time to love in my kids more and get to know them deeper.”
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