The story of how a dog, a rider and a train made a lasting impression
"I’m pretty sure the only reason I wasn’t killed was because I was wearing my helmet,” said Megan Richman. “I’m lucky that I was wearing it because the train pretty much cracked it into eight different pieces.”
There are some decisions you look back on and wonder what would have happened had you chosen a different option. For 26-year-old Megan, she’s gone through all the “what ifs” and “should haves” repeatedly the past two months. But things remain the same: She’s still alive.
On the evening of June 10, Megan had just finished her small animal emergency rotation at the University of California at Davis’s School of Veterinary Medicine when she decided to go for a ride on her 19-year-old Arabian, Red. She also took her young Irish Setter, Sunny, with her, as always, to help get some energy out of her.
“I was debating on whether I should ride or not because I had clinics the next morning, but I pretty much decided I would go for a short ride,” said Megan. “So, I tacked up and hit the trail.”
Just prior to that day, her father, himself a small animal veterinarian based in Highland Heights, Ohio, had given Megan a lecture about wearing her helmet. “My dad had just lectured me a month before about how much my brain was worth and how much they’re paying for education and how I needed to wear my helmet, even if I was going for a short ride,” she recalled. “He reminded me how expensive everything is, and I was like, ‘Okay, that’s kind-of true.’”
She made the decision to put on her Troxel helmet before she swung her leg over Red’s back to begin their ride.
There are a few different trails that leave from the stable Megan boards her horse at in Davis, California, so she chose the one that headed towards the sunflower field…and a pair of railroad tracks. It was 7 o’clock on a Sunday night, so Megan figured the trains were done running for the day. She had ridden this path before, and knew how you had to climb up the trail to get on the levy road by the tracks. She also knew the trains were used to horses and riders along the rails, so she felt comfortable with this trail.
She made the decision to ride along the railroad tracks for a prettier view.
All was normal until Sunny took off after something unseen by Megan’s eyes. The young dog started running up the levy road and onto the railroad tracks. Knowing that her horse had osteoarthritis, she knew he couldn’t handle the rough terrain of the levy road at a gait faster than a trot, so she tied him to a gate at the top of the levy road and took off on foot for Sunny.
The levy road starts off straight in one direction, then turns perpendicular towards the pair of railroad tracks. On one set, coming in her direction, was an AmTrak train. In the distance, she could hear another train coming from the opposite direction. As she struggled to catch up to Sunny, she started waving down the driver of the AmTrak train. Sunny continued onto a short bridge, and Megan continued after her, determined not to let her dog get hit.
“My dog was not listening. I’m not sure if she was chasing something or what was going on, but she just kept running,” said Megan. The AmTrak driver continued to blow his horn at Megan, though she’s not sure if he ever saw Sunny.
Sprinting as far to the side of the bridge from the track as possible, Megan had almost grabbed the lead rope she had clipped to Sunny’s collar when the train clipped her.
“I didn’t grab my dog in time,” she said. “I was two steps away from her…”
When the train hit Megan’s left arm, she fell face forward, into the gravel that supported the train tracks. “My left eye was literally right next to the railroad tracks as the train was passing,” she recalled. “It was pretty horrifying. I thought I was going to die.”
Still alert, Megan rolled to her right side to get away from the track. “I didn’t hear the train hit my dog … I didn’t hear anything.”
Luckily, Sunny had jumped off right before the train, seemingly right as the train hit Megan.
“I’m pretty sure people on the train saw me get hit because it was still daylight,” she said. “I tried to stand up, but temporarily blacked out and fell back down.”
Once Megan came to, she saw that her left arm and leg were soaked in blood. Her left olecranon was poking out from her skin, but she couldn’t tell what else was broken, except that her legs were fine.
Through all of this, her horse stayed where he was tied and waited for her to slowly limp back to him. Megan tried to get back on Red to ride for help—she didn’t bring her cell phone because she wanted to “avoid the world” during her ride. Attempting to pull herself up with her left arm on the horn of her Western saddle, Megan gasped in extreme pain and fell back down. She sat under Red and screamed for help for 15 minutes until a fisherman heard her pleas and called 911.
Upon examination at the trauma center in Sacramento, Megan was found to have fractured her left wrist, have five separate fractures in her radius and ulna, a compound fracture of her olecranon, part of her triceps muscle torn off and a scapulae fracture, all on the left side of her body. She had a few lacerations to her left abdomen and hip area and the left side of her face was black and blue from hitting the gravel.
But the main thing that wasn’t severely injured from the accident? Her skull.
“I’m pretty sure the only reason I wasn’t killed was because I was wearing my helmet,” said Megan. “I’m lucky that I was wearing it because the train pretty much cracked it into eight different pieces. They didn’t find anything abnormal on my head CT.”
Because Megan chose to wear her helmet, she continues to choose her path in life.
Now, just two months after the accident, Megan is already back to finish her last year of veterinary school. Her left arm is in a sling and she’s balancing physical therapy with schoolwork and clinical rotations. She’s permanently banished Sunny from the barn, and while she still can’t ride for another month, she’s already ordered a new helmet.
“I’m incredibly lucky, I don’t know how it turned out this way that everything is okay, but I’m still alive. I’m here.”
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