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Guardian Angels Carry Cellphones

Motorcycle crash victim’s survival aided by friends tracking his location

In the early morning hours of last Aug. 8, Matt Urban’s motorcycle went off a rain-slickened rural road and hit a fence, tossing him 100 feet and leaving him bleeding, broken and unconscious on the driveway of a home.

It was pitch black. No one heard or saw him crash. The owners of the home were on vacation. With each passing minute, his survival chances dwindled. He was a mile from his Allen Township, Northampton County, home and no one knew his plight. He had just turned 21 and it was his birthday.

Spoiler alert: This story has a happy ending, and it combines good friends, a cellphone location-sharing app, an amazing intersection of circumstances and world-class medical care.

A day of fun, then a crash

Urban and friends had been together the day before the crash, first swimming then listening to bands at Musikfest in Bethlehem. The friends were sharing their phone locations, so each knew the other’s whereabouts. After leaving Musikfest, some in the group went to one friend’s house for a while.

Friend Katelyn McKitrick says Urban eventually decided to get on his motorcycle and drive home. He was set to work the front desk the next day at a local Comfort Suites hotel. McKitrick, who was a year ahead of Urban when they both attended Northampton Area High School, says she was worried about Urban and unsuccessfully tried to follow him in her car.

She kept driving toward his home and her car hit a piece of wood in the road. She had no idea why it was there or what it meant. Still on the phone with another friend in their group, she learned Urban’s location had not moved. “Then I got a really bad feeling,” she says. A short time later, she saw Urban lying in a driveway. The piece of wood she hit in the road was part of the fence Urban hit. “I actually drove past him at first and had no idea,” she says.

She ran to him. His helmet was off, and he was bleeding and gasping for air. McKitrick is a nursing student, soon to graduate, who works part-time as a nursing assistant on the neurology floor for a local health network. This tremendous trauma was unlike anything she’d ever seen. She checked for vital signs and called 911.

Urban says McKitrick’s intuition and her finding him were “divine intervention.” McKitrick says if she hadn’t found Urban, he likely would have died.

A new helmet 

Urban was a relative newcomer to motorcycle riding and had his bike less than a year. He says he used a skull-cap style helmet but changed to a more protective full helmet with a face shield about a week before Musikfest on the advice of a friend. “If I hadn’t purchased that new helmet, I might be dead,” he says. Even with the new helmet, he had bleeding on his brain. His back and foot were fractured. “If I didn’t have it [new helmet] on, who knows what would have happened,” he says.

Urban was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Muhlenberg in Bethlehem. “I don’t remember the two-hour window before or after the accident. I don’t remember getting on the motorcycle. That’s all lost,” Urban says.

At LVH–Muhlenberg, Urban’s caregivers included trauma surgeon Joseph Stirparo, MD. His back surgeries were performed by neurosurgeon Luis Cervantes, MD. “They are amazing at what they do,” Urban says.

The road to recovery

Dr. Stirparo says Urban was initially in a vegetative state. Surgery on his back was performed after his condition stabilized. “Most of the early treatments were related to his head injury,” Dr. Stirparo says. “He was on medication to decrease the pressure inside his head.”

Urban says he began to regain consciousness after about two weeks in the intensive care unit (ICU) and was there for a month. “When I could understand what was going on, I was like: ‘What did I do?’ ” he says. “I asked my dad why I was there. I didn’t really know.”

After discharge from the ICU, Urban underwent physical rehabilitation in Philadelphia and more rehabilitation locally. He’s now back to work and driving. He bought a car but hasn’t entertained any thoughts yet about getting back on a motorcycle. He’s also back to the gym and returned to golfing.

He lauds his treatment at Lehigh Valley Health Network. “I was never worried I wasn’t going to make it,” he says. “I knew I was in good hands and that I’d pull through.”

Did You Know?

Per vehicle miles traveled in 2021, motorcyclists were about 24 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and were four times more likely to be injured. Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Urban calls his recovery “amazing.” He says he recently saw someone who was in a similar accident who was two years into their recovery but had not made nearly the progress he made. “I felt lucky and sad at the same time,” he says. “There must have been guardian angels watching over me.”

One of those angels, McKitrick, says finding Urban had a lasting impact on her. “I left my car at the scene of the accident that night,” she says. “All the emotions just hit me at once. To this day, I still have a hard time driving at night.”

Dr. Stirparo says the trauma team was moved by Urban’s network of friends and family who constantly visited and encouraged him. “When you have that many people, it gives a lot of hope to the care team. Just to see the impact he had on people and the people that loved him. It was wonderful.”

Trauma Care

You can expect high-level trauma care at Lehigh Valley Health Network's accredited trauma centers located in eastern Pennsylvania.

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