Kenny Noyes: Smiling again, one year later
Kenny is sitting on his quad, smiling and chatting with his dad during the Noyes Camp Racing School session at Motorland Aragon just two days before the first anniversary of the life-threatening crash that happened on the GP roadrace track at this very circuit complex, and by the way they are joking and laughing you might think years had passed instead of just one.
Back on July 5, 2015, the reigning FIM CEV Repsol Champion had had a difficult two days of practice and the team had worked all night, but it seemed the problems were solved when Kenny went out for his Sunday morning warm-up. On his first flying lap he set the fastest sector times but then crashed. The bike bounced off the wall and came back and there was direct impact between the bike and Kenny´s helmet.
Now, at the end of a very hard year, Kenny is walking again, driving a car and, of course, riding bikes again. His family know that without the fast and efficient work of the Motorland Aragon Medical team, Kenny would not have survived. Thanks to them and to all that came after, his goals today are ambitious and on the horizon.
The crash and the first days and weeks
Kenny arrived by emergency medical helicopter at the University Hospital Clinic in Zaragoza, eighty miles north of the circuit, in a stage Glasgow-3 coma, the most critical level on the established Coma Scale: no reaction to any stimulus. He was on life-support for breathing, hydration and nutrition and the first 24 hours were the most critical. His skull was drilled to place a pressure relief tube and he was kept under induced coma.
The first evaluation of the medical team was that the family should be prepared for the worst. The first good news came the following morning when Dr. Pilar Luque confirmed that the cerebral hemorrhage had not grown and was capsulating. Her cautious words were, “The situation is better than we expected.”
She explained that with this type of injury and recuperation there are no reliable predictions of outcomes or recovery time. Nearly a month after the accident the situation remained worryingly stable and the family was warned that Kenny might remain in a vegetative state. After that the family, Kenny´s wife Iana, Denny, his younger brother and his parents, Heidi and Dennis, decided on a “super intensive” program of sensory stimulation. Exceptions were made to hospital rules and the family was given permission for virtually unlimited visits of two persons at a time. The “team” organized into shifts and after a single weekend of intense stimulation, Kenny opened his eyes voluntarily for the first time.
The family´s key role in recovery
Now, with Kenny making steady improvement, the family firmly believes that almost constant accompaniment and stimulation, allowing for periods or rest of course, is vital to the recovery of a person in a situation like Kenny´s.
“You just have to remain positive and reject all negativity,” says Dennis. Dennis told Kenny racing stories and when he told Kenny a familiar story about Kenny Roberts and Randy Mamola, “Kenny made eye contact”. Dennis even read aloud for hours and retold stories from Kenny´s childhood as did Heidi who also sang songs. Wife Iana and younger brother Denny were the ones who provided the more aggressive stimuli…they pinched him, pulled his hair and Iana even bit him. They exhorted him to wake up, to open his eyes, to fight back. “Heidi and I were the good cops, Iana and Denny the bad ones,” Dennis says.
Dennis, a journalist and writer, kept a daily log of events and the teams shared their experiences so that it was all kept in diary form in order to keep the doctor informed and establish that he was able to follow instructions, proof that he was moving from deep coma into a state called “minimal consciousness” which is recognized by specialists when a person is able to follow simple commands like “squeeze my hand,” or “open the throttle with your throttle hand.”
The work went on for days: old friends from Miraflores sent recordings of recapitulations of adventures in the Guadarrama mountains, the childhood playground of Kenny and his friends. His wife annoyed him by ticking his face with her hair, something that he had always hated. When he got mad, that was big progress.
One day Dennis handed Kenny, who had been a pitcher, a baseball and asked him to throw a curve. Kenny´s hand “remembered” the grip for a curve. ”The feeling of a familiar object, like a baseball, seemed to stimulate memories,” Dennis observed.
During this first stage of recuperation, says Iana, “the nurses play a key role along with the family because they are the ones who are with the patient the most.”
After several days on this “intensive stimulation,” Dr. Luque of the Zaragoza hospital decided the time had come to move Kenny into the Guttmann Institute in Barcelona, two hundred miles east, where the emphasis gradually shifted from stabilization to recovery and rehabilitation.
Denny, Kenny´s brother, advises others who might find themselves in the same situation that in order to ensure that the recovery goes well they must also take care of themselves. “If you want to help,” he says, “you have to get enough rest and stay active. Ask the nurses what you can do to help but also ask other families in the ward who are going through the same process with a loved one. And, when you have time, read up on the type of injury and how it is treated and what to expect, but don´t accept limits.”
The next phases of recuperation took place in the Guttmann Institute and the StepByStep Foundation in Barcelona, both specialized centers in medullary (spinal) and brain injuries. The Guttmann Institute is a fully-equipped and staffed specialized hospital and StebByStep concentrates on more aggressive physical rehabilitation Kenny attends daily sessions at both with the same goal in mind…to get back on the Palmeto Kawasaki ZX-10R, but only if and when he is ready.
Specialists also point out that it is vital that the patient has the will, the drive, to work hard. Machines help but the patient determines how much. Kenny´s years as a disciplined road racer, solving problems, testing limits and constantly improving have contributed to his rate of recovery.
When Kenny entered the Guttmann at the beginning of August it was a critical time and his short daily specialist rehab was supplemented by the family.
“Nobody knows the patient like the family,” says Iana “and you need to know your loved ones limits and then push those limits more than most doctors would advise. The doctors are always conservative, but the family often knows best.” An anecdote to demonstrate this: Eight months after the accident Iana believed Kenny was ready to try his hand at a driving/riding simulator, but the doctors felt it was too soon. However, the very next weekend Iana and Denny took Kenny to the Noyes Camp at Motorland where he himself demanded to climb on a 1000cc Suzuki mounted on a “wheelie machine” and that same weekend he was encouraged to drive a car at the circuit and also to ride a motorcycle, drive a tractor to water the track and operate heavy earth-moving equipment for track maintenance. It couldn´t have been better for his recovery. Soon afterward he was reclassified as an out-patient.
But before he was able to leave the Guttmann, Kenny went through a period of recovering his memory. For a while he thought he was sixteen years old and refused to believe that Denny was his brother. As Denny tells it, “My sixteen-year-old big brother refused to believe his little brother had a beard.”
At that point Kenny was experiencing post traumatic amnesia and the family had to constantly remind him where he was and why. Iana explained over and over the crash with all details and aftermath. He was shown photo albums and videos and these were indispensable tools that brought him into real time and filled in holes in his memory. Doctors and nurses finally determined he had gone beyond post traumatic amnesia, a big step in recovery from coma, when he was able to remember their names and faces and when he was oriented in time and place and knew what had happened on July 5th at Motorland. He will probably never, doctors say, remember the crash, but there are continual improvements in short and long term memory.
Seven months after the crash he was oriented in time and place, but brother Denny observes, “To recover, the person needs to believe in his own recovery, want it and work hard for it every day.” Dennis had to return periodically to the Grand Prix paddock to do his job as a TV commentator for Spain´s Tele5 and, because of periods of absence, he was the one who most clearly saw the improvements.
The first smile
The family observed as Kenny moved up the Glasgow coma scale from the dreaded level of Glasgow 3 all the way to to the top (15. There were long, troubled times of bad news and no apparent improvement but there came a day when Kenny smiled again. It was his brother who produced that smile, singing and dancing in the hospital room at the Guttmann Institute, a moment that the family will always remember in the form of a video, but Denny sums it up best: “It´s the best thing I´ve done in my life, coming up with a dance that made my brother smile.”
On the 5th of July, 2015, Kenny Noyes´s was evacuated by helicopter after his terrible crash at Motorland Aragon (Spain). Now, a year later to the day, he is able to joke with riders taking part in a two-day session at his Noyes Camp Racing School, after a long and continuing recovery period that included competing with his brother flying remote control helicopters in his hospital room and landing them for points in chalk-marked squares on the floor.
Whether it is on the race track with his 1000cc Kawasaki Superbike or slotting toy helicopters into landing pads in his hospital room, Kenny is as competitive as ever, like the Spanish Superbike Champion that he is.
Source: Cristian Ramón Marín Sanchiz, Noyes Camp