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Elgin woman recovers from bike accident that almost took her life

Kathy Crudele her husbRalph Marasco met last week with hospital staff thcared for Kathy during her recovery. | Submitted

Kathy Crudele and her husband, Ralph Marasco, met last week with the hospital staff that cared for Kathy during her recovery. | Submitted

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Updated: April 29, 2013 11:58AM

ELGIN — Kathy Crudele doesn’t remember the July 9, 2012, bicycle accident that sent her flying over her handlebars.

Neither does she remember the next few weeks that she spent in Presence Saint Joseph Hospital’S Intensive Care Unit, or the family and friends who surrounded her in those first touch-and-go days.

Six days after the accident, surgeons in Elgin removed a third of Crudele’s right temporal lobe to relieve the pressure and swelling in her brain. At one point, said her husband Ralph Marasco, doctors told him they had treated younger patients with similar injuries who did not survive.

But eight months later, other than tiring a little more quickly and having fleeting, occasional dizziness, Crudele, 64, has had a nearly complete recovery. This week, Crudele and Marasco left town for a trip of a lifetime — a 10-day tour of Italy, including a visit to the Vatican at St. Peter’s Square.

Since the accident, Crudele said, she has learned to not take anything for granted and to not put off things — because one day, it may be too late.

Crudele and Marasco, married for 20 years, were with a group of other Del Webb subdivision residents who had biked to a coffee-and-doughnut shop near their far-southwest Elgin community that summer morning. Crudele was at the back of the pack, and no one saw the accident, she said. She doesn’t know if she hit a bump or just lost control of the bike.

Marasco just remembers hearing the scream before turning to see his wife on the ground.

Fortunately, a retired police officer came upon the scene just seconds later and called 911, Marasco said. Firefighters and paramedics from the nearby Elgin Fire Station 7 transported Crudele to the hospital.

The diagnosis was traumatic brain injury.

Setback battle

Kathy fell on the left side, leaving injuries to the right side of her brain.

“Her brain was not absorbing the blood” released by the injury, Marasco said. Because the brain is encapsulated in a gel-like substance, the fall on her left side caused bruising to the right from the wobble, he explained.

After five days in the ICU, Crudele was transferred to a medical bed on the fourth floor. But soon after, the pressure in her brain came back, Marasco said. The surgery was scheduled.

The news, Marasco said, was good.

After two hours, the surgeon, Dr. Christopher Cascino, “came back through the doors and yelled, ‘Everything went right!’ ” Marasco said. At that point, he told Marasco and Crudele’s daughter, Jennifer, to go home and get some rest. “There was nothing we could do for the next five or six hours,” Marasco said.

There were a few back-and-forth trips to the ICU as Crudele battled setbacks.

But after five weeks, Crudele had improved enough to begin physical therapy.

That, she said, is the first day she remembers anything from her stay.

She started with speech, occupational and physical therapy three times a day.

“The first day was … Oh my God,” Crudele said. “But I was committed because I knew how hard it was going to be.”

One of the first tasks was to order numbers — initially impossible, she said. Looking at a clock face to tell time? “A 2-year-old could have done a better job.”

But when she finally returned home, one of the first things she did was sit down with bills and accounts to balance the family checkbook — which she did to the penny, Crudele said.

She also sat down with Marasco for a game of Scrabble — and beat him by 100 points, she laughed.

Neighbors pitched in, leaving casseroles and meals for the family during Crudele’s hospitalization and recovery, she said.

Taking it slowly

They also rescheduled their Italy trip — originally planned for last fall. It was the first time they’d purchased trip insurance, the couple said — just four days before her accident.

Crudele said she is getting out and being active again, and knows that the upcoming trip will be taxing on her. She plans to take things slowly, not push herself, and find a cafe to sit in and enjoy the view.

Getting back on the bike is another matter. While she has learned to not put things off — such as getting around to buying a bike helmet — she isn’t ready to tempt fate by getting on the bike again.

In fact, instead of just putting the bike out with the trash, she watched as a Waste Management truck crushed the bike on garbage day. She didn’t want someone else to ride the bike that brought her such bad luck.

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