x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Long road back from coma for Dubai athlete

Richard Holland was hit by a car in the early hours of October 11 while he was cycling and training for the Ironman Race.

Richard Holland was hit by a car while training for the Ironman Race.
Richard Holland was hit by a car while training for the Ironman Race.

DUBAI // When Krystyna Maciejewski planned her future with her outgoing, sporty and exceptionally fit partner, it involved marriage and a family.

The 31-year-old could never have imagined any part of it would involve spending months at the bedside of South African Richard Holland, who is only able to communicate by blinking an eye.

Miss Maciejewski, a teacher who lives in Dubai but grew up in Canada, was at work when the news was broken to her by the principal.

“I just collapsed on the chair when she asked me to go into the room as I had already envisaged exactly what had happened. I knew he was going cycling that morning, as it was his routine. I just knew he had been hit by a car. I just broke down in tears and was shaking. I couldn’t speak,” she said last night.

Mr Holland, 30, was hit by a car in the early hours of October 11 as he cycled from his home in Motor City along Al Qudra Road to the cycle lane that heads towards Bab Al Shams.

The sales and marketing manager for the distribution company, Sport in Life, was in training for an Ironman contest. He suffered severe injuries to his brain as well as broken ribs, punctured lungs, a fractured sternum and a fractured right fibula.

Miss Maciejewski, who is Polish by birth, has been dating Richard for 18 months and said marriage and family was very much on the cards.

“We were very close. There’s no doubt in our minds that we were going to get married. That was the first time in my life I had planned on having a family – together with Richard. We saw our future together,” she said.

She added that she found out about the accident very quickly as fellow cyclists posted pictures of Richard’s bike on Facebook after the incident. He didn’t have ID on him but a friend recognised the bike and called Miss Maciejewski’s school.

She has since spent much of her time at Richard’s bedside at Dubai’s City Hospital alongside his mother, Judy Rothschild.

“I ask him yes and no questions and he is able to communicate by opening and closing his eye. As far as we understand, he knows I’m there,” Miss Maciejewski said.

“Mostly, I feel helpless. I’m used to making him feel better and making all the trouble go away – but this I cannot fix,” she added.

The driver of the car involved was arrested then released, pending a criminal case at the traffic court.

Mr Holland, who represented his country in the triathlon and was very safety aware, underwent neurosurgery and was put into a medically induced coma. Nearly two months on, his future is uncertain as there is no prognosis.

“It’s a brainstem injury. At this point we just have to wait for the brain to heal to make those connections again with the rest of the body,” Miss Maciejewski explained.

Mrs Rothschild, who lives in Australia, filled with tears when she spoke of hearing the news of her son’s injuries. Her husband and Richard’s stepfather, Colin Rothschild, told her of the accident after he received a call from Richard’s employer.

“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. When you get the phone call, you are so shocked and so terrified and so helpless because you are so far away. I can’t even describe how I felt,” she said.

Mrs Rothschild wants to take Richard back to Australia with her but, as he is not a citizen of the country, the family will have to pay for his care. She believes it will cost about A$1.5 million (Dh5.8m) for one year.

A campaign called “Back on Your Bike” has been set up to raise money for Richard.

Donations can be made at www.backonyourbike.com.

“Without a doubt I will be with him 100 per cent through this,” Miss Maciejewski added.

“If he goes, I will absolutely go to Australia. We had planned our future and we are still holding on to that. I haven’t lost hope. I’m going to be with him the whole time.”

ecleland@thenational.ae