'No way I would have survived' Ironman thankful for helmet which saved his life

Bret Bassett (left, after his accident in October 2009) and right, on a training camp for an Ironman competition in 2018. Credit: Bret Bassett
  • By ITV News Producer Charlie Bayliss

Triathlete and Ironman competitor Bret Bassett wouldn't have thought much before heading out on his bike for a training session as a teenager, but one fateful ride almost ended his life.

Bret, now 26, was riding with friends on a downhill stretch of road in the South West of England when he crashed his bicycle at around 30 mph in October 2009.

The keen sportsman, then 16, went straight over the handlebars and landed head-first on the road, immediately knocking him unconscious.

Bret suffered horrific injuries, including a fractured skull, a broken collar bone, broken shoulder blade, multiple broken ribs, a broken vertebrae in his back and snapped four fingers.

Bret was in intensive care for six weeks following his accident. Credit: Bret Bassett

One of his friends, who was unhurt in the accident, was able to call emergency services, and an air ambulance took Bret to Derriford hospital in Plymouth.

What followed next was the start of a long, arduous journey back to health - a journey which he insists would have been stopped short had it not been for his helmet.

"I know I would be dead. The helmet I was wearing wasn't top of the range by any means was cracked in two. Without it, there's no way I would have survived," Bret told ITV News.

  • Road to recovery

Upon arriving at hospital following the accident in October 2009, Bret underwent emergency surgery to save his life.

Doctors worked to relieve a bleed on his brain, caused by the impact of the collision.

He had 40 per cent of his skull removed to relieve pressure on his head and for weeks, his life hung in the balance.

Doctors had to operate on Bret in order to save his life. Credit: Bret Bassett

The injuries were so severe that Bret was on life support for four weeks and in intensive care for six.

He was transferred to a specialist rehab centre in Bath where he continued his recovery. Bret had to learn to walk, talk and write again.

At the time, doctors were unsure if he would ever fully recover.

"For weeks I was unable to move or do anything for myself. I was at a stage in my life where I didn't know if I was going to be able to finish my A-levels. I had to learn how to use my hands again," he said.

"I really did not know what was going to happen. I didn't known if I was going to University because at that stage I couldn't read or write.

"I honestly wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy."

  • Ironman... in more ways than one

Ten months after his accident, Bret had a custom-made titanium plate fitted into the remainder of his skull.

Undaunted by his accident, he worked his way back to fitness over the course of several years.

Both he and his family researched helmets and the protection they offer to ensure he would be safe once he got back on the bike.

The titanium plate surgically inserted into the remainder of Bret's skull will stay in place for the rest of his life, and his family decided it was vitally important that any helmets he should wear be of the highest possible safety standard.

Bret, following his operation, had part of his skull removed following his accident in October 2009. Credit: Bret Bassett

After hours of research, they concluded US-based foundation Snell were among the industry-leaders in safety testing.

Tests on the helmet's ability to withstand impact, its positional stability, dynamic retention, shell penetration and flame resistance are all carried out during multiple testing phases.

The scarring which was left on Bret's head after he underwent surgery to remove around 40 per cent of his skull. Credit: Bret Bassett

Bret said: "When you look at the helmets they don't seem too much different. There might be a bit more padding or something like that, but the tests they have to withstand proves they are safe.

"The level of testing between Snell and normal helmets really shocked us. If you compare the two, its huge.

"Just because it looks good, doesn't mean it is good. I'd advise everyone to make sure they're getting properly tested helmets, as you never know when you might need it."

Bret competes in gruelling Ironman triathlons, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile cycle and is then capped off with a full-length marathon.

Although his path back to fitness has not been the easiest, Bret believes it has helped shaped him into the man he is today.

"The time I spent in rehab there wasn't really a great deal I could do, I was waiting for the plate in my head to be built so I was stuck in there., getting my hands and fingers moving. Going for walks around the ward was about all I could do.

He added: "If the coaches weren't there and I my family didn't help with keeping me going it wouldn't have been possible."

  • 'Don't be stupid'

After his near-death experience, Bret believes it should be compulsory for cyclists to wear helmets when out on the road.

Under the Pedal Cycles (and Use) Regulations 1983, the only equipment that must be fitted to bicycles under the existing law are brakes and lights.

In addition, there are a section of Britain's riders who do not believe the compulsory use of a helmet would make cyclists safer, pointing to research which suggested they may even increase the chances of a collision.

Research by the University of Bath found cars passed 8.5cm closer to cyclists wearing helmets than those without.

Bret now competes in gruelling Ironman competitions. Credit: Bret Bassett

However Bret is unswayed.

He feels the law should be updated and that fines should be given out to those not wearing a helmet.

Bret said: "To those who don't wear a helmet, I would say don't be stupid. The amount of people who don't wear one is crazy. It should be a legal requirement to wear a helmet. If you're not wearing one then you should be fined I think.

"Without my helmet, there is no way I would be alive today."