The fading sun is cascading off the mountains of Revelstoke, creating the summertime warmth and light we all enjoy in Late June. A young girl, 9, is riding her bike home to see her parents after a day of childlike fun and wonderment. As she reaches the crosswalk on Fourth Street and Edward Avenue in the Southside area, she looks at the driver who is headed to town from the bridge, and senses he is slowing down. As she begins to pedal across the bold white lines, the car strikes her on her left side sending her 12 feet to the pavement. This is (now 11 years old) Denise Aulisa’s story.
On June 22nd, 2016, Denise was struck by a car at the crosswalk in Southside and while it was a scary scenario for her, she was willing to share her story with the Revelstoke Current to make sure no one else gets hurt and to draw awareness about bike safety.
“I was on my bike and I made eye contact with the car that was coming, my older sister was already on the other side waiting for me, I started to cross the street but the car I made eye contact with, instead of slowing down he kept going.”
Denise was struck on her left side; however, it was her right side that took the damage. Denise was sent 12 feet from the point of contact and landed in the street. Her femur bone was broken with a clean cut, leaving her shocked, scared and in pain in the middle of a very busy intersection. Although the bone did not break through the skin, Denise claims she knew it was broken because she could no longer move or control her leg.
“He hit my left leg and the left side of my bike, but it was my right leg that was broken.”
After the car struck Denise, the driver immediately pulled over, and began speaking with Denise’s older sister about the situation. Numerous cars pulled over to steer clear of the dangerous situation, as well as run to help a little girl who was left in a horrifically vulnerable position.
“I saw other cars coming towards me from the bridge and I was scared they were going to run me over and not see me, but they started to stop. My sister ran home to tell my parents and someone else called emergency.”
Denise’s older sister, Miriam raced home to let Mom (Manuela), and Dad (Tony), that their middle child had been struck by a car and was now lying in the middle of the road and needs help. Tony shared how hard it was to comprehend when his oldest daughter was trying to explain what happened.
“We couldn’t understand what was going on because Miriam was shocked and she couldn’t explain what happened, but, we understood right away that something was wrong. We took the car because we didn’t know how far away it was, but it was right around the corner.”
While Mom and Dad were being informed as to what was happening, the emergency response team had arrived and were doing their part to make sure this brave young girl was safe. Although the situation was no laughing matter, two years later a charming, mature and vibrant, Denise chuckles about how she did not like the smell of the laughing gas they were trying to administer.
“I was crying, I remember them putting laughing mask on me, I tried taking it off because I did not like the smell of it. They put this thing (neck brace) around my neck, put me on this table thing (stretcher) lifted me up and put me in the van.”
When any tragic or horrific event takes place at any age we often think of the most comforting place to be; home. For a youngster, home is usually cradled in the arms of a loving parent who (in their mind) can hold, love and snuggle the pain away. For Denise, she simply wanted to be held by her Mom.
“I was mostly shocked because it really hurt. I just really wanted to be cradled in my Mom’s arms.”
After a traumatizing incident, it can take time, patience and confidence to regain the trust we all have to give and share when it comes to the rules of the road for both motor vehicles as well as bicyclists. For a child to go through such a shocking turn of events, regaining that confidence can take a lot of time and effort to get back.
“I don’t remember when, but I remember my sister saying ‘Just do it, just do it, just do it’…I told myself ‘this is fine, I probably didn’t forget’ and I started biking, I almost fell, but each day is better.”
A naturally cautious Denise has now found she overthinks crossing the road and it can make her nervous at times to the point that if she was not with an adult, she would not cross the road. As time passed, she slowly warmed up to the notion of crossing on her own, but not without looking in both directions 4-5 times. When she rides her bike and comes to an intersection, she gets off and walks the bike across the road.
“Going to school, I hated crossing the roads. As times passed by I was a little more confident, but I still look out.”
The tale of Denise’s right leg is not quite finished! 2 months later, Denise was finally starting to mobilize and not reliant on a wheelchair or crutches, the family was gearing up for a fun weekend of camping. A not quite healed Denise was standing on the tent trailer steps when a feisty and colourful younger sister gave her a nudge as little siblings will do and she fell forward, grabbed onto the hand railing which swung her under, and ultimately breaking her right ankle. Not a great year for Denise’s right leg!
While this story has turned out to be a learning experience for Denise and her siblings, any parent who is told one of their children is lying in the middle of the street because a car hit them hard enough to send them 12 feet, would crumble to their knees. The shock, horror and rampant imagination would be so powerful; all you could do to go into survival mode for the sake of the child.
“Traumatizing, you have so much adrenaline, so many questions your mind is racing.” Tony shared.
A tear filled Manuela shared how it was for her to hear the news and how heartbreaking the situation was.
“The first thing was when Denise answered me; I thought ‘Ok’…she answered me. I felt a little bit better; my oldest daughter thought she was dying on the ground. When we went to Vancouver and the doctor said that maybe she could have fractured her spine, I was very scared waiting for the results.”
Denise wants everyone to know just how dangerous it is to ride without a helmet. Although it is not fashionable or convenient, if she was not wearing a helmet, the ending to this story would be tragic.
“If I was not wearing a helmet, I would have died.”
On a final note, when asked what she learned from the entire experience and what the silver lining was, Denise had a quick and mature answer.
“I never thought my leg would go back to normal and it did, so I think maybe you have to work hard for what you want.”
Original Story below by David F. Rooney