Meet a road rash survivor

Publish Date: 
Jun 8, 2007
By Guido Ebert

RIDERS CAN'T insulate themselves from death or dismemberment. But wearing the proper riding gear can help lessen whatever injuries result when a crash occurs.

Brittany Morrow learned that lesson the hard way.

In September 2005, Morrow, a 22-year-old Albuquerque, N.M., resident, climbed on the back of a 2004 Suzuki GSX-R750 operated by her friend, Shaun. She was an "experienced" passenger, but hadn't ridden in a while.

"I was excited to be on a sportbike, even if it was as a passenger, after a long streak of no riding whatsoever," Morrow recalls.

She shed her prescription glasses for a pair of regular sunglasses and her cowboy hat for an oversized helmet. She put on a pair of Capri-style jeans and some tennis shoes, and threw on a sweatshirt over her bikini. Off they went.

Forty-five minutes into the ride she started having to fight the wind to stay on the bike behind Shaun, without pulling on him too much.

And then it happened.

"I felt a rush of wind hit my face like a brick, and our bodies separated in an instant," she recalls. "My visor had come completely open, and the force pulled on my face and helmet so hard that it sent my head up and backwards."

The force ripped her entire body off the back seat. "I remember thinking that if I grabbed Shaun's T-shirt, I would pull him down with me, but it was already too late to try and grab hold of him."

Brittany hit the pavement. "It was as if every breath I had ever taken rushed out of me in an instant," she says. "I could feel every inch of my body hitting the road, tumbling, sliding and grinding into the unforgiving surface. In a matter of seconds I had come to the conclusion that I was going to die, and I was OK with it. I knew this was far worse than anything I had ever gone through, and I was convinced I would not live to see the next day."

She closed her eyes as she continued her 522-foot tumble down Highway 550. "I never lost consciousness," she says, "but I remember wishing that I had."

At first, she couldn't feel anything. A few moments passed and she tried to move. "I could tell that I had lost my left shoe. I noticed that my knees were uncovered when the little pieces of what I thought were gravel scraped against my skin, only to find out later that they were my actual kneecaps grinding against the pavement below them. I could smell my blood as it pooled beneath me on the road.

"By the time the ambulance came and [they] rolled me onto my back, removed my helmet and called for the helicopter, I felt as if I had been cooking on the street for hours. Every nerve ending in my body was on fire."

The Injuries

Morrow spent the next two months in the hospital fighting the direct (and indirect) results of the fall. She had third-degree road rash burns on 55 percent of her body. She lost nearly half of her left breast. She severed tendons in her left pinky finger and dislocated her right big toe.

Morrow also suffered a large amount of blood loss and ended up contracting pneumonia, a urinary tract infection, pseudomonas infections, a blood infection, a blood clot in one of her legs, yeast infections and anemia.

She endured three blood transfusions (with one adverse reaction), eight surgeries, 31 conscious sedations, countless skin debridements, and full-thickness skin grafts. There were only two places on her entire body that could be used to harvest healthy skin for the grafts.

"Multiply your worst skinned knee by fifty, add it to 55 percent of your body and then let someone suck on it with a handheld vacuum for 24 hours a day; only then will you know what it is to experience a wound vacuum [treatment] on a fresh skin graft," she says.

Worse yet were the dressing changes. The burns on her back, chest, rib cage, side and stomach couldn't be grafted for the first three weeks, so the bandages on those areas acted as her skin. "Every time the doctors changed my dressings, it was as if they were ripping off my skin," she says on her MySpace web page. "The oxygen hitting the open burns was enough to make me scream."

The pain never completely subsided, unless she was sleeping, that is, and she had nightmares of the accident every time she slept. She took 20 pills a day for the pain and to fight infection. Eventually, the meds made her hair fall out. She endured months and months of physical therapy.

It has been nearly two years since she fell off that motorcycle, and she's still recovering. "I'm still healing, and will be for the rest of my life," she tells Dealernews. "After an accident like mine, the body never fully recovers. I'm in pain every day. I'm extremely sensitive to touch and temperature, and the itching never subsided. But what makes the biggest impact is that I will never really be 'normal' again, regardless of how I feel. And that's something that gets noticed by everyone, not just me."

Riding Again
It's a testament to Morrow's constitution and her love of riding that, less than two years after the fall, she's back on a motorcycle. And this time, she's in charge.

"It wasn't until after the accident that I knew I had to get my own motorcycle, or I would never be completely [emotionally] healed," she says.

Morrow is now a trained and licensed rider. She owns two motorcycles, a Yamaha R6 and a Honda CBR600F4i. She takes part in track days, and is learning to stunt ride. She even works on her bikes.

This past January, she made her story public. Images from the accident and of her injuries were posted on the Internet -- published the first personal account. Since then, Brittany's story has been published in at least 20 different languages.

Today, Morrow is a protective apparel spokesperson for Icon. She also designs for and is an investor in an online sportbike streetwear company that markets under the names AdrenalineLimit.com and RokkitGirl.com. She's also purchased the rights to TheRoadRashQueen.com and plans to fill the website with her and others' experiences while urging people to wear proper gear every time they ride.

"I've just started getting into making appearances and speaking in front of groups to talk about my experiences and recovery while urging others to wear the proper gear," she says. "If my story can teach someone the importance of gear without ever making them feel the agony of third-degree burns, then I will feel successful.

"I know I can't reach everyone and save every future road rash victim, but I can sure try my best," she continues. "All I want is to know that I tried in every way to ensure no one ever has to go through what I went through. I see girls in skirts and high heels jump on the back of a bike and never even realize what they would experience if something went wrong."

These days, Morrow looks for helmets that are both DOT- and Snell-approved. Apparel -- Impact protection is critical. "It's a product like armor that helps prevent major accidents from turning into fatalities," she says.

Morrow wears both leather and textile apparel, and makes sure the quality and fit are perfect for her. Safety trumps style. "Looking good once I'm out of my gear is what is most important, and that's the reason I choose quality over style," she says.

How Dealers Can Help
Rider training courses are valuable teaching lessons, but they're only for riders seeking endorsements on their licenses. Many passengers are left uninformed, and they're too trusting of the operator.

"Because passengers don't have to have any special licensing or class to take in order to hop on the back of a bike, most don't take into consideration protective gear, because they just don't know what could happen and how important gear really is," Morrow says.

That's where the motorcycle industry comes in. "My pictures have huge shock factor. People need to see what happens, and that means all riders, not just passengers," she notes.

Morrow suggests that the nationwide Motorcycle Safety Foundation course could include accident photos in its curriculum. "Not to scare people," she adds, "but to show them what can happen to anyone at any time."

She urges dealers to share her story with their customers and teach them the life-saving benefits of wearing proper protective gear. (Dealers are encouraged to download the two poster images and post them in their departments.)

"Personal testimony is the only teacher that comes close to making a point like the lesson learned from personal experience," Morrow says. "My job now is to share that personal experience, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

For more on body armor, helmets and other protective apparel, consult your June issue of Dealernews and the special polybagged supplement, Gear 2007: The Helmet and Apparel Handbook, featuring Brittany Morrow on the cover.
 

To download free PDF-formatted posters of Brittany Morrow promoting safety gear, click here and here.