Crash-teen's mum pleads with cyclists to wear helmets
THE mother of a teenage boy who suffered horrific injuries after his BMX was in collision with a bus is pleading with young cyclists to wear helmets.
Vicky McLaughlin said her 16-year-old son, Zach, was not wearing protective headgear when he was in the smash on Morledge, Derby, and spent weeks in a coma with serious head injuries.
Now – four months after the crash – he is still in a wheelchair and in hospital.
But despite the family having "gone through hell", Ms McLaughlin said Zach's friends still do not wear helmets when they ride.
The 39-year-old said: "It's not cool to wear a helmet so despite Zach's horrific injuries his friends still don't wear them.
"They think they're invincible – but unfortunately they're not."
Doctors initially gave Zach a less than 20% chance of survival after the collision, in January.
Mrs McLaughlin, of Chambers Street, Alvaston, said: "We've been through hell. I thought he was going to die. I never thought he'd call me mum again."
Everyday Mrs McLaughlin cries about her son. She sobs about his accident, the severe injuries he sustained and the fading dream that the 16-year-old wanted to join the Army.
Then she weeps tears of joy. They trickle down her face when she talks about getting her son home from hospital and the positive challenges he faces to rebuild the life he almost lost.
"We've been through hell," said the 39-year-old. "We've been through utter, utter hell.
"For weeks, my son didn't know me. He lay in a coma, fighting to survive.
"All I could do was sit and wait and hope that he would live. I've cried and cried. I cry all day."
On January 6, Zach McLaughlin suffered massive head injuries when his bike was in collision with a bus in Morledge, in Derby.
His injuries were so severe that Vicky was told that her son had less than a 20% chance of survival.
With multiple head fractures and bleeding in his brain, Zach was rushed to Nottingham's Queen's Medical Centre. Family gathered to see him.
"It's every parent's worst nightmare," said Vicky, who lives on Chambers Street, in Alvaston.
"I saw him two hours after the accident and it was a shock. I was calm but everything that happened that night made me think he was going to die.
"When my dad came, I just fell into his arms and said 'I'm scared'."
Five months later, Zach's story is very different. He's awake, he's talking and he's getting around in a wheelchair.
He's currently being cared for at Kings Lodge Neurological Rehabilitation Unit at the Royal Derby Hospital and staff are working him hard.
His daily schedule is hectic. He's having physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language lessons.
Fingers-crossed, he will be coming home next month.
"Zach knows who I am now," said Vicky, who works full-time at Sainsbury's on Osmaston Park Road. "And that's the biggest, most wonderful thing in the world. When he woke from his coma, he didn't recognise me.
"He didn't talk for ages. Medical staff said he was suffering with post traumatic amnesia. He seemed really different.
"Zach was aggressive and was biting and punching people. But on April 1, he finally spoke. He recognised his two friends, who are both called Katie. He said 'hello Katie'.
"The girls texted me to tell me and I was over the moon. After that, he started to know me. Now he calls me mum."
Vicky, 39, and her husband, Darren, who works as a joiner, are busy moving house so they can care for Zach at home. He could be back as soon as June 1.
They're leaving their home in Alvaston and moving to Chellaston. The new house has a downstairs bedroom, which has been specially adapted, and a wet room.
It is costing them a lot of money but Vicky will do anything to have her family reunited. She has three children – 21-year-old Daniel, Zach and Paige, who is 12.
"We've got to move before Zach can come home. But we've got another big problem. We can't take our dog to the new house. So before we can get everything sorted and actually move in, we've got to rehome him."
Vicky begins to cry. Talking about everything again makes her feel very upset and unsettled. She's trying hard to hold it together but it's all too much.
"I'm sorry," she says. "Ignore me. I'm always crying. I cry every day. I'm sad about the dog. He's eight years old and we've had him from when he was little. We need to find a new home for him and it's pretty urgent. It's just something else to cope with. It's very upsetting."
Vicky is desperate to find a good home for Shadow, the Labrador-greyhound cross, and cannot move until she knows he is settled.
"I'm trying to pack boxes, move stuff in, sort the dog out, hold down a full-time job, and visit Zach every night when I finish work. I'm exhausted. We all are.
"I just want to get in the new house and get Zach home. Some days, it feels like there's a mountain to climb and I just don't seem to have time to start walking. This year has been truly terrible."
Despite being physically shattered and emotionally worn out, Vicky can't hide her smile when the conversation turns back to how well Zach is doing.
She's hugely proud of her son and says he has surprised them all. She knows he was close to losing his life.
Now he's getting into trouble for riding his wheelchair too fast round the hospital wards.
"His old lovable character is returning," she beamed. "He always had such charm and wit. Everyone said he had a wicked sense of humour.
"He was a perfect teenager. His bedroom was always immaculate and he had wonderful manners.
"He never answered me back. He was perfect, just perfect. I wish I'd had a reason to ground him that night when he went out with his friends. That way, none of this would have happened.
"He was doing well at school and he had lots of friends. But his biggest passion had to be riding his BMX. He loved his bike and he loved going to the parks to ride it with his friends."
Vicky said if the weather was dry, Zach was out. On a typical weekend, he could clock up more than 40 miles on his bike.
He'd had two new wheels for Christmas. It had been an expensive present for the teenager.
On the night of the collision, Zach had been riding at the skate park at Bass's Rec. When the light faded, he left with his friends so they could get something to eat.
It is Vicky's guess that the lads, including Zach, were planning to ride near Derby Crown Court. He wasn't wearing a helmet.
"Zach was with his cousin when it happened," said Vicky. "Jack called me straightaway but my phone was on silent because I'd been at work.
"The first I heard about the accident was when Jack's mum – my sister – phoned me at home. She said Zach had come off his bike in town.
"At first I wasn't worried. He was always falling off it and coming home with bumps and bruises.
"I told my sister that I would make my way to the hospital and then she called back and told me to come to town.
"She had already arrived and a police officer took the phone. I was told to hurry. When I got closer to town, I could see lots of blue flashing lights.
"There were fire engines, police cars and ambulances. I got out of the car and started to run to the scene.
"I was stopped by the police, who wouldn't let me get any closer. I kept asking 'is he breathing.' I told them that's all I wanted to know. They replied 'only just'
"Loads of time seemed to pass before anything else happened. I was told that Zach would be taken to Nottingham because of his head injuries.
"I wasn't allowed to travel in the ambulance with my son. When I arrived at the hospital, I was taken to a family room. I knew it was really serious. After a while, one of the medical team came to me and Darren and we were told just where we were at.
"He said that Zach had suffered extensive injuries. He'd had a CT scan and the results revealed he had multiple head fractures.
"We were asked if all of Zach's close family were here at the hospital. When I told them that my daughter was at home with my dad, they suggested I ask them to come. The situation was really serious.
"When I finally got to see Zach, I don't think I'd ever seen anyone so sick. He was covered in wires and there wasn't a part of his body that I could touch.
"He had massive cuts on his face and one of his eyes was hugely swollen. My 6ft tall baby son was in trouble.
"I stayed at the hospital until the early hours of the morning. When I went back the following day, Zach was sedated and lying in a coma."
For more than five weeks, he stayed at the Nottingham hospital. Later, he was transferred to the children's intensive care unit at Royal Derby Hospital.
"I can't thank the team at Derby enough for what they did for Zach," said Vicky.
"Two weeks later, he was taken to the Kings Lodge and that's when the serious work began.
"All the staff are wonderful and I don't worry about him now. He is progressing well and every day he looks better. The team are working so very hard to help him. His days are very busy.
"Zach can't remember the night in January. His short-term memory is also poor. He talks quietly and sometimes his speech is slurred. His right arm isn't moving well at the moment either.
"He's only been talking for a short while but I am so pleased that we can share a conversation."
Vicky's biggest wish is to get him home and Zach wants that too. He is going to need lots of care and support but Vicky just wants her family back together.
"He still has to be very careful as his skull is still fractured," said Vicky. "He gets frustrated. He's always been so independent.
"To be honest, it's like getting to know someone again."
Zach's friends have been wonderfully supportive and Vicky is in regular contact with his pals. They visit Zach at the hospital.
"When I see them, I shout 'helmet' at the top of my voice and they just look at me and smile.
"Even now, after everything that's happened, not one of the lads wears one. Until it's cool, they just won't. They think they're invincible but, unfortunately, they're not."
Vicky doesn't blame anyone for what happened to her son. She says she feels for the driver of the bus and contacted the bus company to find out how he was.
"I worried for him too because I knew how awful an experience it must have been for him."
Vicky says Zach's biggest wish was to join the Army. She knows he probably won't get to do that now. She tries not to think too far to the future. All that matters is next month – June 1 – when Zach could be coming home.
"I visit him every day and we go up to the hospital's restaurant for tea. We enjoy a meal together but I want more than that. I want him home, so we can be together as a family.
"The hospital run is exhausting and expensive and we're supposed to be saving for the new house and all the things that Zach is going to need when he gets home.
"But I don't care about the money. We'll find a way to pay the bigger rent and we'll find a way to buy Zach a new bed and stuff. I want his room to be wonderful."
Despite the stress, Vicky and Darren have quit smoking. They're putting their cigarette money into a 'Florida Fund'. It's their biggest wish to enjoy a fabulous family holiday next year.
"We've got £200 in the fund so far," said Vicky, with more tears in her eyes. "We usually only go camping but not next year. We're going to have some fun."