Almirola: Injury Felt Like Twisting Knife In Back

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 19 2017

Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola talked about his broken back and his future Friday in North Carolina. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – Aric Almirola knew immediately following his horrendous crash at Kansas Speedway that he had a spinal injury, but the NASCAR driver said Friday he didn’t realize the severity of his broken back until he talked with doctors and learned he would be sidelined for eight to 12 weeks.

“Dr. ( Dom) Coric in Charlotte advised me that this is nothing to mess around with,” Almirola said during a press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “If I were to get in another similar accident and not be properly healed, you’re talking about potentially being paralyzed from the belly button down. I’m not going to risk it. I’ve got a lot of baseball to play with my son and I’d like to dance with my daughter one day at her wedding.”

Physician assistant Bill Heisel, director of OrthoCarolina Motorsports, said the compression fracture of Almirola’s T5 vertebra was more severe than the back injuries suffered in 2013 by Denny Hamlin and last year by Tony Stewart. Almirola won’t be required to wear a back brace Heisel said because it was a “very stable fracture” due to the ligaments connecting the bones being intact.  

“In this case, his rib cage effectively works as a brace,” Heisel explained. “The rib cage works as an external fixation device because it connects to the spine and connects to the sternum, so the location of it also facilitates the healing, close to the heart and close to the lungs.”

Heisel said the vertebra was “crunched” and they needed to get some of the blood out of the bone.

“That is a time phenomenon as much as anything,” Heisel said. “Then we have a lot of work to do from a physical therapy standpoint.”

Heisel noted Almirola’s muscles also must be rehabilitated before he can return to a race car since they will decrease in strength due to lack of use. First, however, they must deal with Almirola’s acute pain.

“For me, I think the most challenging part is never getting comfort or relief,” Almirola said. “I’ve broken a lot of things and as long as you immobilize it and you can sit on the couch and raise it up, it doesn’t really hurt until you get off the couch and all the blood rushes to it and it throbs.  But with this it’s constant pain all the time and the only thing that gets relief is constant change.

“If I sit for too long, I’ve got to stand up.  When I stand up it feels better because it elongates the spine.  If I stand for too long, it starts to hurt and then I’ve got to sit down.  I’m constantly changing position and nothing alleviates the pain. Sleeping has been really challenging because laying on my back and putting pressure on my spine and my back hurts.  Rolling over onto my side hurts – either side it hurts.  Rolling over in the bed, I have to roll over like a mummy.  I can’t really separate my shoulders and my hips. The dull ache is constantly there.”

Almirola said his father was a firefighter and he had learned from him that it was important to keep one’s spine stable if one felt neck or back pain in an accident. He said he saw the fire on Danica Patrick’s car and when he felt an intense burning sensation in his back, coupled with pain, he thought his car also was burning. He dropped his window net, but when he disconnected his steering wheel and threw it on the dash his back pain intensified. That’s when he realized he had a serious problem because it took his breath away. Once safety personnel arrived, Almirola explained his condition and “they went through all of their proper protocol to get me out of the car safely without moving my spine and stabilizing my spine.”

Almirola said he attempted to avoid the wreck but couldn’t due to his car getting in some oil or water, which prevented him from steering it.

“I felt like from that point my car was on railroad tracks and I was just headed straight for the wreck,” Almirola said. “There was nothing I could do. I braced for the wreck and immediately when I hit Joey’s (Logano) car I felt pain in my back. It felt like somebody stuck a knife in my back and then I realized that my car was airborne because I could see the asphalt. When it came back down it felt like somebody took that knife and just twisted it up in my back.

“Looking back on it and watching the replay, I’m very thankful that that’s the only thing that happened in that wreck; that I got a broken back. I think if Joey’s car would have been three feet more down the race track and I would have hit him in the door number, that would have been very violent and I think Joey would have been seriously injured. Obviously, seeing Danica’s car on fire, if I would have got into the back of her and run into her fuel cell … it could have been a lot worse than it was. For all relative circumstances, I guess things worked out the best they could.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 19 2017
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