A couple weeks ago, I embarked on the nearly impossible task of buying my teen a new bike. He had long since outgrown his old one, and the pandemic created lots of down time to amble through neighborhood streets on two wheels. Turns out everyone else in the world has had the same idea. One local bike store told me they had 400 bikes on back order. A big box sporting goods chain said they had absolutely nothing my son’s size in stock, and I should try calling every week to check on their latest shipment – and then rush to the store if they happened to have anything.
Eventually I did secure a bike for my son and he’s happily zipping through the streets.
But I should have another priority — a properly fitted bike helmet.
The helmet my son had was a few years old and, admittedly, he rarely (if ever) wore it. Given that most of the tweens and teens I see riding around these days are also helmet-less, I’m guessing we’re not alone in our lackadaisical bike helmet use.
But this family’s story just might change your mind. It sure did mine.
Zayden Nenichka is a fifth-grade boy like many other kids his age. He likes riding his bike, playing baseball, and fishing. And then one day a bike accident changed his life.
A week before the accident, his parents – Brianna West and James Nenichka – had bought him a new helmet that he actually liked because it had a Bluetooth in it. Before then, he rarely wore a helmet while riding his bike. Sadly, his mom told Scary Mommy he had forgotten his helmet at a friend’s house so he was riding without it when he was hit by a motorcycle.
Zayden suffered a diffused axonal injury, a broken jaw, broken femur, and broken wrist. He was treated at Akron Children’s Hospital, but despite the exceptional care he received, his right arm still isn’t functioning properly.
“The recovery process has been so overwhelming, considering how quickly he had recovered,” West said. “We’ve learned to not give up no matter what and that there are so many people out there who will come together in a crisis with such great support. There are people out there who really care, even strangers.”
Sadly, Zayden’s family needed to learn this the hard way.
According to Safe Kids Worldwide, more than 240,000 children and teens were seen in emergency rooms for bike-riding-related injuries in 2014. According to the National Safety Council, one-third of non-fatal bicyclist injuries are to the head.
Safe Kids Worldwide reports that properly-fitted helmets can reduce the risk of head injuries by at least 45 percent.
Zayden’s parents are teaming up with Akron Children’s Hospital to spread the word about the importance of bike helmets.
In addition to preventing brain injuries, Akron Children’s Hospital says that “[a]bout 75% of all deaths related to bicycle accidents can be avoided by wearing a bicycle helmet.” They offer the following tips for finding a safe and effective bike helmet:
– Be sure the helmet fits snug to the crown of the head and is not too far forward or backward.
– Use the two-finger test — the bottom of the helmet visor should rest only two fingers above the eyebrows.
– Straps should fall in a V-shape below the child’s chin.
– Give the helmet a wiggle to be sure it passes the “wiggle” test and doesn’t slide or shift.
– Never wear a hat under a helmet because it can make it less effective.
– Use reflector stickers to make your child more visible to drivers.
– If a helmet has been in a crash or fall, replace it immediately.
– Set a good example by wearing a helmet yourself.
When asked what advice she would give other parents, Brianna West cuts right to the chase. “No helmet, no riding, no exceptions – and no sandals.”
Zayden, who has three brothers and one sister, has similarly simple advice: “Don’t give up, and stay strong.”