CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With his trademark self-deprecating humour, James Hinchcliffe jokes that he received “a complete oil change” after his accident during preparations for the Indianapolis 500.
All kidding aside, the IndyCar driver recognizes he’s lucky to be alive.
Hinchcliffe suffered a life-threatening leg injury May 18 when a piece of his suspension broke during a crash and pierced his leg. IndyCar’s safety crew had to act quickly to extract him from the car and pump him with more than 14 points of blood as they raced him in an ambulance to an Indianapolis hospital.
Hinchcliffe, who was in critical condition when he was rushed into emergency surgery, said Wednesday he has no memory of the race to save his life.
“I’m not sure if it’s some sort of defence mechanism or biology taking over — despite being conscious throughout the whole process, I have mercifully been spared any memory of the accident whatsoever,” said the native of Oakville, Ont. “Even the first couple days at the hospital are a bit of a blur. I remember waking up in ICU, knowing that obviously I’d had an accident, that I was somewhere I probably shouldn’t be.”
It wasn’t until he’d been moved from ICU several days later and family remembers recounted their experiences from that day that Hinchcliffe realized “just how serious the injuries were and how very close it was to being a different story.
“That was a first time I had an appreciation of the severity of the situation,” he said.
He’s watched the video multiple times of the wreck, which began with a spin that led to a hard crash into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wall. Many observers have said if not for a steel-and-foam energy absorbing wall, Hinchcliffe would not have survived that initial impact.
“It’s fascinating and terrifying all at the same time,” he said. “I still have a lot of questions about the day because I don’t remember it. I’m the luckiest unlucky guy.”
Hinchcliffe was not hurt in the collision, which ripped off one side of his car and sent his Honda into a lazy spin that briefly caused the car to turn on its side. His injuries came from a piece of the suspension that went through his upper left thigh and caused massive blood loss. He also suffered a fractured pelvis.
When the safety crew arrived, they had to act quickly to first extract Hinchcliffe from the car and also stop the bleeding. Hinchcliffe has credited IndyCar’s use of a travelling safety crew for recognizing his injury and knowing immediately how to keep him alive while transporting him to IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
“You know, me and my family have literally everything to thank them for,” said Hinchcliffe, who believes the safety crew saw the blood pooling at the bottom of his race car and knew exactly what to do.
“Having an understanding of racing, having an understanding of the kind of injuries that can happen in a racecar, it gives them such a leg up. You know, you can have the best surgeon in the world, but if he doesn’t have a grasp of what could potentially be wrong, it’s going to take him that much longer to really diagnose the problem. In a situation like mine, there wasn’t any longer to diagnose the problem.
“It is no doubt in my mind a contributing factor to me surviving that accident, was not only having a safety team there, but one with the kind of skills and experience these guys have.”
Hinchcliffe, who was released from the hospital May 26, doesn’t know when he’ll race again. Although the Canadian wants to attend this weekend’s race in Toronto, he wasn’t sure Wednesday he could get the doctor approval to travel.
For now, he just works on walking a little more each day, and said his high so far was 4,000 steps in one day. He’s able to use an elliptical machine a bit, but exercise has not been approved.
Still, he said doctors believe his recovery is on schedule. He’ll need one more surgery, and learned Wednesday it could be scheduled in the next four to six weeks.
“The pain level has been going down every single day. I’m almost completely off pain medication now, which is great,” he said. “There’s some other things that have to happen, some other bits that have to heal before we can schedule (surgery), but based on the progress we’ve seen on those areas, the doctor’s confident that within the next four to six weeks we should be able to schedule that surgery.
“Then it should be another four to six weeks before I’m kind of back to the gym and really getting back into a full training regimen.”
Jenna Fryer, The Associated Press