Leth taking slow steps to a full recovery after fracturing vertebra in Winston-Salem

Danish rider devastated to skip national time trial defense

When it comes to recovery, slow progress is better than no progress for Hitec ProductsJulie Leth, who crashed at the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic on May 31 in North Carolina, and sustain a fractured vertebra, two breaks in her jaw and a broken elbow. Devastated that her injuries forced her to sit out of Thursday’s Danish time trial championships, of which she was the defending champion, she insisted that she will be back next year to try to win a second elite title.

“Tomorrow it's been one year since I won my first Danish elite ITT title,” Leth said in a Facebook post ahead of the championships. “I was supposed to defend my title later today. I'd lie if I said I wasn't devastated that I won't be able to race. It also feels weird not going to the championships for the first time since 2008. However, I'm happy recovery is going well, and that I'll hopefully get out of this without any permanent injuries. There are titles to be won again next year.”

Leth crashed early during the women's race at the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic on a downhill, where she hit a dip in the road. She was taken to the Wake Forest Baptist Health Medical Center and treated for her injuries. After spending more than a week in hospital, she was released on June 6, however, despite trying to book a flight home to Denmark right away, she wasn’t able to fly home until June 11 because airlines required that she be accompanied by a doctor.

“It took a long time before we were able to leave the US,” Leth told Cyclingnews. “I was admitted at the hospital for almost a week, and afterwards we struggled getting a flight home, since no flight companies wanted to take the ‘responsibility’ of flying with me. It was super frustrating to be stuck in the US. On the positive side, this meant that I was more recovered for the trip home.”

As for her injuries; a fractured T6 vertebra, two break in her jaw and a broken elbow, Leth said that she is recovering slowly. “I'm getting better everyday, but it's all baby steps,” she said. “But slow progress is better than no progress.”

The compression fracture to her T6 requires that she wear a back brace to support her spine. She said that typically patients need the brace for 10 weeks, however, her doctors have not confirmed how long she will need to wear it.

“Team Denmark is helping me, and we're hoping that some experts will soon be able to assess how long the recovery time will be. Since I'm young and fit, it might be sooner rather than later. I wear the corset all the time, recently I started sleeping without it.

“I've ridden my bike on the [trainer] twice for 15 minutes each time. Both times resulting in my back being a bit sore later during the day. Whenever the corset is off, I'll have to do a lot of rehabilitation. Of course I'm eager to get it off but I know a back injury is very serious and I don't want to compromise with my health.”

Leth required surgery to correct the two fractures to her jaw while she was in the US. Following the surgery, her jaw was wired together to allow it to heal for three weeks. Her doctors in Denmark removed the wiring on Thursday.

“Truth be said, I got rather emotional,” Leth said. “While my jaw was wired, I was only able to eat and drink liquids, and ate everything with a straw. Now I've got elastics on, to try to get the jaw to place right. I'm still not allowed the chew, and must therefore only eat soft foods. It's a big relief being able to eat something else. I'll have elastics on for another two to three weeks, and after that my jaw should be fixed.” 

The cast has been removed from her elbow to promote mobility, offering another positive step in her overall recovery. “It's still sore, but I started the rehabilitation, training to bend and stretch it,” she said. “It wasn't in a cast for very long, since the doctors wanted to prevent it from getting stiff.” 

Despite the extent of her injuries, Leth is trying to stay positive with the help of her friends and family, and she will likely be strong enough to start her physical therapy in the coming weeks. “Being home is really good and I'm overwhelmed by all the support I've gotten,” she said. “It's not fun being out, and injured this bad, but I'm trying to stay positive and look forward.

“When they told me I had a fracture on my back, I wasn't sure if I was ever gonna be able to walk again, so I'm just really grateful that I'll probably fully recover and get out of this without any permanent injuries.

“I'm sure I'll come back, and that this experience will somehow make me stronger.”

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