Biker’s survival a miracle
Published: April 2, 2006 | 3902nd good news item since 2003
They knew something was wrong when Mike Tucker’s Harley-Davidson drifted into the path of an oncoming car. It missed him by inches.
“And I do mean inches,” said John Castro, a friend and president of the Sons of California Harley club’s Galt chapter. “We thought, ‘What in the hell is he doing?'”
Seconds later, Castro and many of the other riders began to understand. Tucker, a 54-year-old masonry contractor from Galt, was suffering a heart attack while doing 55 mph on his Harley.
So much for a leisurely ride home a week ago. Last weekend, members of five of the motorcycle club’s Northern California chapters had just met in Patterson, where they enjoyed a barbecue, determined which events they’d attend and which charities they will support this year.
The San Joaquin (Stockton) and Galt clubs rode together — two bikes abreast — north on Highway 33. They were about halfway between Patterson and Westley when Tucker suffered his attack. He nearly struck the car in the opposite lane, and veered away just in time, his bike heading toward the soft shoulder of the northbound lane.
“Then, all of a sudden, he let go of the handlebars and rolled off the back,” Castro said.
And that is when Tucker’s miracle began. In the next 30 minutes, he had to be revived at least four times.
Otherwise — granted, a near-death experience makes the “otherwise” seem minor by comparison — Tucker suffered only a concussion, some scrapes, bruises and a sore ankle.
“God guided you to the (road’s) shoulder,” Terrie Kohrt, Tucker’s longtime companion, told him. “There couldn’t be any other reason.”
Tucker pointed to other factors:
That day, and for no apparent reason, he decided to wear his best full-face helmet “instead of one of the cheesy knockoff helmets I usually wear.”
Otherwise, he might have suffered massive head injuries to match his massive heart attack.
Tucker swerved just in time to miss the oncoming car, but also missed hitting the bike ridden by his riding partner, Tom Morales.
“If he’d have hit Tom, that could have set off a chain reaction, and you could have been looking at 15 bikes going down,” Castro said. “Or, if he hit that car and it went into our lane, you would have needed more than one Life Flight copter. There were lots of factors.”
At 55 mph, the fall alone could cause death or severe injury. But companion Kohrt believes the heart attack left Tucker unconscious and limp. It allowed him to roll with the impact rather than tensing up to brace for the fall, which is how broken bones can occur in such tumbles.
“That’s what they said,” said Tucker, who remembers nothing from the time he climbed aboard his 2004 Harley Deuce on March26 for the ride home until he woke up in Modesto’s Doctors Medical Center on Tuesday morning.
He’d felt lousy that Sunday morning and thought he had a touch of the stomach flu — nothing serious enough to keep him from making the trip. And with no history of heart problems, it never occurred to him what really was happening.
The nausea eased on the ride down from Galt. When they got to Patterson, though, he began feeling poorly again.
“I laid down next to my bike and closed my eyes until I felt better,” Tucker said. “The guys were getting antsy to go, so I said, ‘I’m ready.'”
He made it barely two miles before having the heart attack. When Tucker fell off the bike, he tumbled dozens of feet along the pavement and dirt shoulder. The Harley stayed upright until it went onto the shoulder, slowed to a crawl and finally fell over on its side.
Castro was the first to tend to him, and that was another part of Tucker’s miracle. Castro is a foreman for Teichert Construction, which offers CPR training to its employees every year.
“I had my yearly CPR update Feb. 28,” Castro said. “It was still kind of fresh in my mind. When I got to him, he was breathing, but I could tell he was obviously in trouble. I kept breathing for him (mouth-to-mouth) and started CPR. I was just doing what I was trained to do.”
He had help from another biker, and from two women with medical training.
Tucker’s breathing and pulse stopped. His eyes rolled. They revived him. The sequence repeated two more times. When one of the trained professionals tapped Castro on the shoulder and took over, 30-plus bikers joined hands while one of the women pleaded with the paramedics to transport Tucker by helicopter.
“Otherwise, he wasn’t going to make it,” Castro said.
And he barely did. He had to be revived at least once during the copter ride, Kohrt said.
Then, these leather-clad bikers put their rough-guy image aside.
“We formed a big circle and started praying,” Castro said.
The same thing happened at Doctors, where Tucker said trauma personnel later told him they didn’t think they’d get the chance to save him, based on the radio reports during his helicopter ride.
“They said I was ‘inactive,'” Tucker said.
“Big, old bikers — 30 of them — all praying and crying like babies,” Kohrt said.
He’s still with us, and expects to stick around awhile. Tucker said doctors found one badly clogged artery, but that the heart wasn’t as damaged as originally feared.
He will have a stent — a wire mesh tube used to support an artery — implanted Monday. He’ll take heart medications and change his diet, cutting out sodas, coffee and processed sugars.
“I should go home Tuesday,” Tucker said. “The way I look at it, this is going to be a blessing in disguise. I’m going to lose the extra 20 or 30 pounds I’ve been carrying around. I quit smoking four years ago, but about six months ago I started playing around with cigars. I knew they were affecting the way I felt.”
He now understands the warning signs — the nausea and headache. He said he’ll listen to his body.
“Next time, I’ll recognize ’em,” Tucker said.
When Castro returned to work the next day, he called his company’s safety officer and thanked her for the training that saved his friend’s life.
“People are still telling me, ‘You saved his life,'” Castro said. “When you see a friend in trouble … I did what I had to do, and I hope I never have to do it again.”