In terms of racing, Dr. Ray Tien and his team had the worst possible outcome in the 2017 Pole Pedal Paddle — they did not finish.
But from a human perspective, that day netted the best possible outcome for the Bend neurosurgeon — he helped to save the life of a cyclist who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a horrific bike crash during the race.
“Everybody had a feeling we were in the right place at the right time for a reason,” Tien said this week. “We had entered the race at the very last minute. It’s weird. We were driving within a minute of when the accident happened. How do you explain all these circumstances that all fell right? I have nothing but a feeling of being grateful.”
One year after Tien came to her aid on the road, accompanied her in an AirLink helicopter to St. Charles Bend and then performed surgery on her, Maggie Woodward is doing remarkably well.
The 59-year-old retired teacher from Portland was released from St. Charles Bend in September and is living in an assisted-living facility in Lake Oswego. She has resumed her active lifestyle of hiking and climbing with the Mazamas hiking group, even climbing Mount St. Helens in March. She has issues with speech and memory, and suffers from aphasia, a language disorder, which sometimes makes it difficult to speak the words she wants to say. But on the phone, she sounds like any other healthy and happy 59-year-old woman.
“I’m doing really fairly well,” Woodward said this week. “I still have problems with memory, computers, speaking. I feel like I am independent to a certain degree. I’ve gotten back into hiking since December or January. Exercise and fitness was a part of my life.”
Woodward remembers nothing from the accident, nor of the majority of her acute in-patient stay at St. Charles, according to her close friend Charlotte Corelle, who lives in the Portland area. However, she has been able to recall the details she was told about her injury last year and the care she received in Bend. She is grateful for Tien, a neurosurgeon with The Center: Orthopedic & Neurosurgical Care & Research in Bend.
“Dr. Tien is an amazing neurosurgeon, person and doctor,” Woodward said. “He would come by and visit me at St. Charles. Just thinking that he was behind me in the (Pole Pedal Paddle) was amazing beyond belief.”
Tien — who plans to race in the 42nd annual PPP Saturday on a team with his wife and two of their kids — admits that when he first saw Woodard lying in the road and inspected her injuries, he was not optimistic.
“I know for a fact that Maggie surprised everybody,” Tien said. “It’s probably one of the best cases I’ve ever been involved in. Maggie’s recovery is really pretty remarkable.”
Woodward was competing on a Pole Pedal Paddle team with friends on May 20, 2017, her first time taking part in the popular multisport race that draws nearly 3,000 participants each year. According to an August story in The Bulletin, she had just started the 22-mile cycling leg from Mt. Bachelor ski area along Century Drive into Bend when her bike started to wobble. She overcorrected and fell, slamming the left side of her head into the road and denting her helmet.
Several other cyclists and bystanders stopped to help Woodward, who was unconscious and bleeding badly, according to the August story. Paramedics arrived to stabilize Woodward, who had by then regained consciousness, and AirLink was called.
Meanwhile, Tien was stuck in the traffic caused by the crash. He was driving with a teammate from the alpine/nordic skiing part of the race at Bachelor to the bike/run transition in Bend. After learning what happened from a sheriff’s deputy, Tien got out of his car and ran to the scene.
Tien accompanied Woodward on the helicopter flight to St. Charles, and when they arrived, the operating room was ready. According to previous reporting, Tien and the surgical team cut away half of Woodward’s skull on the left side, allowing space for the brain to swell and relieving the pressure inside her head.
After surgery, Woodward’s speech and language were gone.
But in early June, she started to talk. In July, the pace of her recovery increased, and she was able to actively participate in physical, speech and occupational therapy, according to Corelle. She surprised everyone by writing again. Woodward moved back to the Portland area in September and is getting back to her normal life. She has many family members and friends who have supported her in achieving as satisfying and as independent a life as before the accident.
Woodward stays busy with hiking, speech therapy and occupational therapy, as well as Love Your Brain yoga, an adapted yoga and meditation program for traumatic brain injury patients and their caregivers.
“The biggest challenges in my recovery could start with enough to do to keep me happy,” Woodward said. “But I can still tell when I go back and read my writing, (I’m) definitely not the teacher I used to be for so long.”
For his part, Tien is ecstatic to hear that Woodward is doing so well, and he is eager to return to racing the Pole Pedal Paddle on Saturday.
Tien had two “ringers” on his team last year, he said, a semiprofessional triathlete and a masters bike racer, and they were hoping to win their age group.
But word began to spread among the cyclists that somebody was hurt, and the biker on their team, Jim Rantala, realized fairly quickly that the team’s day was done as Tien was busy helping Woodward.
“It wasn’t even an issue with the guys,” Tien recalls. “They would give me a hard time (later) but they were joking.”
On Saturday, Tien plans to race on a team with his wife, his 13-year-old daughter and 12-year-old stepson. Tien — who said he has participated in the PPP seven or eight times — will take on the 5-mile running leg along the Deschutes River Trail in what he expects to be a more low-key experience than last year.
“It’s a community event, and you don’t anticipate anybody getting hurt,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being back out there. We haven’t trained at all, but that doesn’t really matter. We’re grateful our kids think we’re cool enough to do the race with them.”
And cool enough under pressure to help save the life of a fellow competitor.
— Reporter: 541-383-0318, firstname.lastname@example.org