VeloMed to the Rescue for Wine Country cyclists

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Dr. Dave Robertson was never shot at during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, but he did have to carry a gas mask when he served on the Navy aircraft carrier USS Ranger.

Today, the doctor no longer works in an operating room as war rages outside his door, but he continues to serve people in a challenging environment: the great outdoors.

Robertson, 61, came up with the idea of creating a medical team on wheels, one to keep pace with serious bicyclists on grand rides in Wine Country. It’s a ski patrol of sorts, he said, but for bicyclists.

“It dawned on me that we should designate ourselves as a cycling team of medical professionals and help with all the organized rides in Wine Country,” he said.

Robertson’s goal was to supplement the current structure in place — paramedics, ambulances, etc. — with medical professionals on the move.

“We are the first responders in case there’s an accident,” Robertson explained. “We’ve seen bicycle crashes and people who have crashed.”

Robertson, an avid bicyclist, has insight into the peril of the sport. Nearly a decade ago, he took a fall and suffered a fractured pelvis. But that didn’t sway him from cycling in between his duties at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he specializes in cardiac anesthesiology.

Robertson’s project began to take form in 2014 with the creation of VeloMed. (“Velo” is French for “bike.”) He and co-founder Dr. Steve Meffert laid the groundwork by setting up a board of directors, a lawyer to deal with legal issues and a trademark.

With VeloMed, Robertson and Meffert created something unique, a crossroad where goodwill meets recreation.

As Robertson’s wife, Laura, put it: “I’m most impressed because VeloMed is the perfect avenue for them to give back to the community while enjoying the sport they love.”

Origin of idea

It was, in fact, during a bike ride with his medical buddies that Robertson first shared his idea to create a roving medical team.

Robertson continues to discuss VeloMed business with fellow bicyclists on the road in what he refers to as “rolling board meetings.”

The bike enthusiast encourages people in pinstripes to do the same.

“Leave your boardroom and your leather chair, jump on a bicycle and go for a three-hour ride and see what you get done,” Robertson said, with a laugh.

Today, there are 110 members of VeloMed, but typically 20 or fewer go on each ride. You can spot them in their signature red jerseys and shorts.

The group is involved in 14 to 16 rides per year in Northern California, with most in Sonoma County.

The VeloMed medical team has a “spring training” of sorts with Dr. Mark LaGrave, a Kaiser emergency room doctor, to give them additional tools and training for treating the injured. Complications range from chest pain to concussions, pelvic fractures to lacerations and road rash.

“Most doctors and nurses take care of people in controlled environments,” Robertson said. “They haven’t been trained to take care of people on the road.”

Gran Fondo accident

One of the incidents that led to the launch of VeloMed was an accident that occurred during the Levi’s Gran Fondo ride in 2009. There were about 7,000 riders in the race, and one bicyclist was found face down in a pool of blood.

Luckily, Dr. Doug Green rushed in to open the rider’s airway, an action that likely saved his life.

Robertson said the word is spreading about VeloMed and people are quick to show their appreciation.

“I was on Mount Tam and a guy said ‘I was riding in Sonoma County and I’m so glad you guys were out there,’” Robertson said. “We really get a lot of pats on the back.”

Robertson is quick to say that his vision for VeloMed extends beyond the race. His group works closely with the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition to foster bike safety and counter road rage.

“A 180-pound person on a 16-pound bicycle,” Robertson said, “doesn’t stand a chance against a 4,000-pound vehicle.”

Robertson hopes VeloMed will help foster detente between drivers and bicyclists.

“We’re a good platform for the awareness of cycling,” Robertson said.

“People in automobiles look at cyclists as cyclists, not as people like doctors or nurses or lawyers or people who work in restaurants. But a cyclist is a person in our community — and a productive person in the community.”

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