Surviving hangman's fracture

Sanford doctor recovering from cycling accident
Aug. 10, 2013 @ 06:42 PM

Sprawled out on the pavement in downtown Winston-Salem, Dr. Parker McConville knew at least one bone in his body was broken. The question was which one.

Going into the poorly-lit fourth turn of Winston-Salem Cycling Classic in mid-June, the Sanford physician who founded the Brick City Criterium was thrown from his bike — like a slingshot, he said, — into a nearby wall, his head smashing into brick.

"I knew I had broken something on my right side,"said McConville who is a family practice physician at Sandhills Family Practice. "Maybe my right collar bone or arm but something wasn't right. I wiggled my arms and legs but when a gentleman touched my neck, I felt an electric shock down my back and arms. I said, not so nicely, 'Do not touch my neck again.'"

It was an important commandment.

Lying in the Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, McConville learned he had not only broken his collar bone and three ribs, but his neck was broken in two separate places.

"It was my C2 vertebra," he said. "That's significant and it's called the hangman's fracture."

Now, nearly two months after the accident, McConville has mostly recovered and is scheduled for a follow-up appointment with his doctors this coming week.

"Luckily, I've had no weakness or real numbness," he said. "There has been a little numbness in my left hand that comes and goes, but it's not frequent. I was in a neck brace for four weeks, but you know what they say about doctors making great patients. I only wore it for about a week."

Chris Zieman, his teammate in the Winston-Salem race, was behind him when the crash occurred and he pedaled back when he saw McConville wasn't moving.  

"It was the last lap so typically there are some crashes," he said. "Everyone does the risky moves to make sure they are in front. … I could see there were a lot of people in the corner and I saw my teammate on the sidewalk, not getting up. That's never a good thing."

He joked that bikers usually jump up, swear for a moment and then try to finish the race. With McConville still on the pavement, Zieman said he was worried for his friend.

"He's a very active member in the cycling community," he said. "He's always got a lot going on and he is very intense."

McConville's neck muscles are still sore, but he has continued to ride his bike during his lunch breaks and he's contemplating competing in a race this coming weekend. The son of Dr. Robert and Anne McConville, he was involved with several sports throughout high school. His interested in cycling renewed during his medical residency at Duke Hospital, he said, and accidents are not wholly uncommon.

"It's something that happens," McConville said. "I don't plan to ride in any criterium at night. Or, I don't think my wife will let me."

If a bystander witnesses someone with a head or neck injury, they should not try to move the person, he said.

"If you move someone's neck, depending on the type of fracture, you could displace the fracture or rupture the spinal cord," McConville said. "And people always need to wear a helmet. My helmet was broke into multiple pieces and if I hadn't been wearing one or wearing it correctly, I probably wouldn't have come out as well as I did."

Active in the local biking community, McConville created the Brick City Criterium — now held in conjunction with the Fitness Fest in downtown Sanford — to capitalize on cyclists who already visited to the area for nearby races and events.

During the aftermath of his accident, McConville said there was an outpouring of support from the community.

"I want to thank everyone in town who sent me get well messages and patients that sent me cards, letters, cakes and flowers," he said. "I didn't get the chance to thank everyone individually, but I did get them all and it was very nice."

McConville said he appreciated the prayer groups and messages sent to him.

"It's not lost on me that I did have someone, in some respect, looking over me that night," he said. "I hopefully have a lot left to do as a husband, as a father and member of the Lee County community."

McConville has lived in Lee County since he was 5 years old. He and his wife, Glynda, have two children, Carly and Grayson.