COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — A Spokane Valley firefighter who was seriously injured in a bike crash in June is urging people to wear a helmet.
Montana Sturges, 24, just returned to work last week at Spokane Valley Fire Station 10, after four months of recovery.
Sturges and his girlfriend were riding their bikes on a quiet street just a few blocks from home in Coeur d’Alene when the crash happened. When he woke up after a medically induced coma, his coworkers were there to support him.
“I remember about one minute before it. I remember riding my bike home from dinner," Sturges said. "The first thing I remember is about a month later. When I do remember waking up in the hospital, these guys were the guys that were there. They'd sit by the bed and they'd hold my hand.”
That’s when Sturges learned he had been hit by a car. He had not been wearing a helmet.
"I broke a few ribs, broke a tail bone. And hit my head on the right side right here on the windshield. And I hit my head back here too, so I had a skull fracture on this left side,” he explained. "So, I had the most swelling right here on the right frontal lobe. And so, I had enough pressure that I was heading towards respiratory failure.”
Sturges underwent several surgeries. His coworkers were scared for him but Sturges says he is very lucky.
Surgeons at Kootenai Health had to act quickly and decided on a drastic procedure, one that likely saved Sturges’ life.
"They cut this side of my head off. Like, you can kind of see a little divot right here, but they cut that all the way back and around like that and left it off for a month," he said.
There he laid at Kootenai Health for weeks while a small, loving army formed around him.
"You accumulate sick leave here. So, we wanted to ensure he had enough sick leave to make it through his recovery. So, we talked to the chief about donating sick leave," said Spokane Valley Fire Captain Karl Cantrell.
Sturges said there were nurses that would trade shifts just to work with him. He is grateful for the kind care and grateful to the nice owner of Anchored Coffee who quietly delivered coffee to his family at the hospital every day for six weeks.
But Sturges said at first, his prognosis was uncertain and recovery was difficult.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done," Sturges said. "Going from an active guy to…I had to learn to walk again. I had to walk in the hospital with a walker and a helmet on. So those little steps were really hard.”
As Sturges took one baby step after another over the last four months, there is one regret playing on repeat in his healing brain.
"I was not wearing a helmet and it was just like a few blocks. I'm a cyclist. That's one of the things I like to do in my free time. I'd ride 100 to 200 miles a week and I always wear my helmet. So, I feel kind of dumb for not wearing a helmet, but I wasn't wearing a helmet," he said.
It’s a fact he can't change, but he might be able to change that fact for the next person. He even gave children in his neighborhood new helmets to keep them safe.
"All my little neighbor kids all have brand new helmets now and they all wear them," Sturges said.
His advice is backed by pain, struggle and the feeling of losing nearly everything.
"I'm the luckiest man alive," Sturges said.