Hospital chief and his paralyzing bike crash

Dr. Brad Berk, chief executive of University of Rochester Medical Center, zipped down a hill on a road ride when he lost control of his bicycle and nearly died.

Berk, a lifelong cyclist, could look from the top of a hill at the road below. He didn’t see any approaching traffic, so he apparently judged it safe to take the entire lane as he coasted down the hairpin turns of the hill road around Canandaigua Lake in New York.

Suddenly an oncoming car appeared in Berk’s path. “Obviously he’d been parked behind the hill where I couldn’t see him,” he said.

Berk braked. He feared hitting the guard rail and falling down the steep bank. So he tried a mountain bike move on his road bike. He leaned back and intentionally skidded, successfully turning the bike to face uphill, trying to get out of the way of the car. But when he started to pedal, he flew over the handlebars.

His rear tire had blown.

He hit the ground and struck his head, awake.

“Oh, good news, the bicycle helmet worked,” he recalled thinking. “Then I realized I couldn’t feel my legs.”

His left arm didn’t feel like it was part of his body. Then he lost feeling in his right arm.

“Oh no, this is bad,” he thought. He correctly diagnosed a fracture of a vertebra high in his neck.

He was panting, which he identified as trouble breathing caused by the paralysis.

“I was worried I might die right there.”

Obviously, Berk didn’t die — he was able to instruct the motorist (who stopped) not to move him, and instruct first responders on how to care for him. A little ironically, this chief executive of a hospital had to fight his medical insurance company over his overage.

Read the article about Berk’s accident and his return to work in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. It’s a pretty cool story. Via the always excellent Biking In LA blog.


  1. From reading this, I understand that he was taking the opposing traffic lanes on a, curvy high-speed descent with blind turns?

    Or was he taking the single lane on a one lane curvy, high-speed descent with blind turns?

    Neither situation is advisable, obviously. Glad he didn't die.

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