Dirt-bike crash survivor inspires others with recovery

Stephen Kloosterman
Associated Press

Grand Rapids — An off-road crash changed Eric Westover’s life, but the story of his recovery is inspiring others.

The Grand Rapids man was riding a dirt bike July 29, 2015, near clumps of trees at Silver Lake State Park. He was with a buddy, and they were familiar with the park. The thrills of motoring and nature views took them to the park nearly every week during the summer.

On this day, however, a Jeep seemed to come out of nowhere, and he crashed. Westover ended up inside the other vehicle, his arms and legs broken.

Westover said while many think accidents won’t happen to them, crashes there are not rare. Two other accidents in 2015 proved fatal – one for a man in June, another for a woman in October.

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Steep dunes may seem like most dangerous parts of the park, but Westover said his accident occurred in one of the lower-lying areas with clumps of trees.

“Just take (those areas) a little bit slower. You’re never really going to know what’s out there, because someone could pop up anywhere. Just go a little bit slower and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

Westover said he lost consciousness while being airlifted to the Spectrum Health trauma center in Grand Rapids.

Westover was at Spectrum for three weeks before being transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital for therapy. He eventually underwent a total 15 surgeries.

Nine months after the accident, Westover’s life is approaching its old rhythms. He has moved home, can drive a car and walk stairs, and expects to return work soon. However, those results come only after much hard work and many tough decisions.

His right leg was amputated above the knee, and his left leg also eventually had to be amputated below the knee. Westover said he asked for the surgery to be sped up because he felt like the damaged limb was slowing down his overall health and physical therapy.

Westover said his recovery has been easier because he didn’t suffer from depression. He also was relatively young, at age 37, and had a healthy appetite for exercise, as a former high school athlete who wrestled and played varsity football for Mona Shores High School.

Janna Pittman, a physical therapist at Mary Free Bed, always tries to challenge her patients but said Westover exceeded many of goals she set.

“It’s just a little bit hard to plan for,” Pittman said.

Westover has inspired others in their medical journeys. Never a Facebook person previously, he set up an account to show friends his progress, and has been surprised by the positive feedback. He also participated in a mentor program, helping another recent amputee get motivated for grueling therapy.

“It’s nice to know you’re helping someone else, or motivating someone,” Westover said.