A Kamloops man is fighting for his life in an intensive care unit in Vancouver a month after he was struck by a vehicle while bicycling down Highland Road from Juniper Ridge.
On May 11, emergency personnel were called to a utility access road off Highland Road — the busy route that connects Valleyview and Juniper Ridge — at about 3 p.m. after a water truck collided with a cyclist. The cyclist and father of two, Kamloops resident Andrew van der Westhuizen, was taken to hospital with broken ribs, internal injuries and a concussion.
His wife, Jen van der Westhuizen, is now calling for better safety measures on Highland Road and added access to Juniper, while lauding the medical care and multiple blood donations her husband has received as he remains in the ICU.
Jen told KTW she was out for a bike ride with her husband and in-laws, all headed northbound and downhill on the multi-use path alongside Highland Road from their West Juniper home when the crash occurred.
The family was going to the bus stop at the bottom of the hill to pick up the van der Westhuizen’s six-year-old daughter after school. Jen left a few minutes ahead of her husband and her in-laws — her two-year-old son along for the ride — to be on time to meet her daughter. Andrew and his parents were expected to meet them there.
When they didn’t arrive and Jen heard that a crash occurred up Highland Road, she assumed her husband, a radiologist at Royal Inland Hospital, and in-laws, who are also doctors, had stopped to render assistance. She called all three, none of whom answered, but soon got a return call from her father-in-law, who explained Andrew had been in the accident.
He was airlifted to hospital in Vancouver that night.
Safety issues present on Juniper bike path due to truck route
Jen learned the trio had been travelling down the multi-use path when the driver of a water truck from Juniper West Developments travelling in the same direction crossed into Andrew’s path when the vehicle turned right into a dump site off Highland Road.
“Unfortunately, it was just imperfect timing where the truck obviously didn’t see him and Andrew didn’t stop in time — and then they collided,” Jen said.
His parents had been riding a bit behind his bike and were able to stop in time. Jen said while it was traumatic for them to witness the crash, she is grateful they were there to help their son.
Highland Road has four lanes — two uphill/southbound to Juniper and two downhill/northbound to Valleyview — but the easternmost northbound lane is blocked by a series of concrete barriers, creating a multi-use path for pedestrians and cyclists. However, there is a break in the barriers to property off Highland Road, where trucks have been dumping excess dirt from residential construction sites, meaning vehicles are often crossing over the multi-use path to enter and exit that site.
Jen described the multi-use path as the safest in town, if not for the truck traffic.
“We watch them all the time. Our house has a perfect view of the site, so we watch them turning into it all the time,” she said. “It’s a constant construction site crossing over an otherwise perfectly safe bike lane.”
She believes having flaggers in the area would improve safety as an extra set of eyes for truck drivers accessing the site.
“I’m not sure why that site is there. As far as I’ve been able to glean, it’s just a site for them to dump dirt and it doesn’t seem to be a smart place to dump dirt,” Jen said.
The other issue, she noted, is that Highland Road is the only access in and out of Juniper — a neighbourhood of thousands of people that is growing, hence the residential construction in the area — leaving only one option for cyclists and vehicles alike. The lone access in and out was put to the test during the July 1, 2021 wildfire that led to residents being evacuated.
Kamloops RCMP Cpl. Crystal Evelyn told KTW the crash is still under investigation.
Liver donation may be needed
Since Andrew’s accident, Jen has been splitting her time caring for the couple’s young son and daughter in Kamloops and making trips to the Lower Mainland to check in on her husband, who has his parents by his side.
Jen said Andrew sustained extensive trauma to his body and organs and has undergone six surgeries on his abdomen following the accident. She said he remains on life support as he tries to heal and overcome his injuries. She said while Andrew has been conscious for about two weeks, he still cannot talk as he has a tracheostomy tube helping him breathe.
She said Andrew had extensive internal injuries. Though he broke most of his ribs in the crash, his limbs and pelvis were intact and, while he suffered a concussion, his helmet saved his life, Jen said.
Andrew has received at least 26 units of blood from 26 anonymous donors, to whom Jen said she is very thankful. She asked that people, if they are able, register to be blood and organ donors.
Jen said her two-year-old son has had a hard time being home without his dad, but their six-year-old daughter has been resilient.
“We definitely have a lot of conversations about missing daddy,” Jen said. “She’s been able to see him once on FaceTime. We had to prep her because he has tubes and machines and he’s not able to talk to us. That was heartbreaking, but she did really well.”
The family has called Kamloops home for a year, having lived in the Lower Mainland for years.
Jen has hope Andrew will be able to resume his previous quality of life, but there are still many obstacles to overcome.
“He still has a lot of healing to do and there’s still some concern on some of his organs,” Jen said, adding that Andrew has just 35 per cent of his liver left after doctors removed the damaged portion.
The human liver regenerates, but Jen said doctors are not confident what remains will be able to and Andrew may need a transplant.
“We’re still not out of the woods and we don’t have any long-term plans at this point because he’s still kind of up and down,” she said.