Dan Lewis ’09 is slowly but steadily improving in a Wichita, Kansas hospital, following a bicycle accident on Saturday in which he was seriously injured.
Although Lewis is still unconscious, his core functions have stabilized and he is expected to recover well from surgery to be performed Monday on both of his legs, according to his father, Hal Lewis.
But the extent of other injuries, primarily to Lewis’ head, remains unknown, his father said.
“He has progressed, but they’ve been very, very small steps,” Lewis said Friday afternoon. “It’s going to be a really long process, and I don’t want to generate any false enthusiasm at this point, but he’s done well and he’s really fighting.”
A spokeswoman for St. Francis Hospital in Wichita said Friday that Lewis is still considered to be in critical condition.
Lewis was a participant in the Habitat Biking Challenge, a cross-country bicycle trip founded by Yale students in 1994 to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.
Lewis is not the first HBC participant to be injured in a collision with a vehicle. Two years ago, Rachel Speight ’06 died when she was struck by a car in western Kentucky while she was cycling on the HBC trip. And last year, Alexander Capelluto ’08 was killed when he was hit by a truck in West Haven while training for the journey.
Hal Lewis said his son and family have deeply appreciated the myriad prayers and well-wishes they have been receiving from “all over the country, both coasts and in between,” including communities that Lewis passed through recently as part of the Habitat Bicycle Challenge southern trip, which began in New Haven and is expected to reach San Francisco in August. He said Lewis just received a new full stack of cards on Friday.
“We’ve received a lot of support from the Yale community, from scores of students, and from the Master at Saybrook and Dean Salovey, and we very, very much appreciate that,” he said, adding that the message sent truly help the recovery process since patients who are unconscious can still hear and process information in many cases.
The accident occurred on Saturday at 1:40 p.m. in Lincoln County, Kansas when Lewis and one other HBC biker were traveling on Kansas Highway 18. According to the Kansas Highway Patrol officer who reported to the scene, Lt. Rich Brown, a Ford Escort driven by Jessica White, 16, collided with Lewis, causing him to fly onto the roof of the car and land onto the street.
At the time of the accident, Lewis was wearing a helmet and full safety gear according to the police report.
Brown said that Lewis had stopped and made a U-turn in the center of the highway after another biker riding with Lewis called out for him to stop because her cell phone was ringing.
“In Kansas, the cars have the right of way,” said Brown, explaining that of the collision accidents he has witnessed in the region, Lewis’ accident, while serious, was not at among the worst. “It is up to [bicycle riders] to watch out for the other cars.”
The police accident report was based on interviews with White and other eyewitnesses. Brown said he plans to speak with Lewis once he is recovered.
“[White] said she slowed down, and I kind of believe her,” Brown said. “What is she supposed to do when a bicyclist slows down in front of her?… All we can do now is just hope and pray that he’s going to pull through, that he goes home.”
There were four eyewitnesses to the accident, Brown said, including the brother of Rachel Meyer, who said she is friends with White, the driver. Meyer said Kansas Highway 18 is an infrequently traveled road and has no shoulder.
“She didn’t know he was coming, and he didn’t know she was there,” Meyer said.
Although Yale helps fund the HBC, it retains no formal affiliation with HBC or liability responsibility, spokesmen for both the University and Habitat for Humanity said.
Hal Lewis said that his son had been thrilled with his experience on the HBC.
“He’d call us every couple of nights and tell us stories about things he experienced on the way, and we had never heard him any happier,” Hal Lewis said. “He was just extremely fulfilled and excited and enthusiastic about the trip.”
About two hours or less prior the accident, his father said Lewis took a photograph on his digital camera upon passing the 2000th mile, or halfway mark, of the journey.
“We’re really proud,” Lewis’ father said of the milestone. “We’re really proud of him.”