North Lakes Senior-Constable John Kenworthy had been riding motorcycles for more than 30 years when he had his first – and only – crash.
The accident left him with only three percent vision.
Sen-Constable Kenworthy wants other riders to learn from his experience and has filmed a powerful video as part of a safety campaign, Motorcycles – The Shiny Side Up, in the hope it will save lives.
“The thing I am most conscious of is it was never going to happen to me, considering the number of years I was riding bikes, the amount of training I’ve undertaken, the number of hours I rode operationally every day and just how careful I was.
“I was never one to take risks on bikes or in cars.
“You’re so exposed (on a motorcycle) – the first time you pass a car, it’s right there.
“Even in a car we think we’re more protected than we actually are, but on a bike, there’s nothing.
“Just think of everyone around you who could be affected by your attitude or your risk-taking behaviour.”
Stationed in Mackay in 2020, Sen-Constable Kenworthy was on his way to a car crash where two adults and children were trapped, with their vehicle balancing precariously on a tree over a creek.
As he was scanning the road, looking for the vehicle, he passed an ambulance on the same mission and two other cars.
“One car had an off-duty OT (occupational therapist) and fireman and the other had an off-duty nurse.”
Sen-Constable Kenworthy, who joined the police force in 2011, recalls riding towards a bend in the road, then realising he wasn’t going to make it.
“I was starting to go down, I went through the hedge, through the fence and I realised the cars (he had passed) weren’t going to see me.
“I thought I was going to die there in that paddock.
“I had the presence of mind and I’d stood up and taken my helmet off and held it above my head before I collapsed.
“I forgot that the lights and sirens were still going.
“Moments later, the first police units arrived, then the ambos, with their green whistle (filled with pain medication).
“An intensive care paramedic lived on the road and was on his way to work – he was able to stabilise me and get me ready for transport.”
Sen-Constable Kenworthy and the cars he passed didn’t realise at the time that they had all gone by the crash scene about 2.5km back down the road.
The family was eventually found and rescued.
“The two young kids were in intensive care with me in Mackay,” Sen-Constable Kenworthy says.
In Mackay, most rural properties are cane farms and not fenced.
“I just had the misfortune of the farm I crashed into was cattle and fenced with barbed wire,” he says.
The wire went through his helmet visor and slashed through both eyes.
“The thing I am grateful for was that the wire didn’t come under the helmet,” Sen-Constable Kenworthy says, gesturing to his neck, where it would have cut.
Sen-Constable Kenworthy’s accident happened in August 2020, and he returned to work in Mackay in March 2021 before moving to Brisbane in July 2021 and starting at North Lakes in August and says he’s incredibly grateful for the support of Queensland Police.
“People have said that I am inspirational and determined, but I couldn’t do it any other way, that’s how I am.
“I still have a passion for road safety – if my story could save the life of one person, then it’s worth it.
“I’m still a serving police officer, but I don’t wear a uniform because people who saw me would think I could help whatever situation’s happening.
“Since all of this has happened, the organisation, the union, work colleagues, have been incredibly supportive, not only of me but also of (wife) Sarah.
“When we first flew down (from Mackay after the accident) Sarah came down with a tiny little bag.
“A colleague I had worked with when I was at Caboolture put together a huge basket, with perfumes and fruit and all sorts of things because Sarah had enough things to worry about.
“I was still in an induced coma and that was so thoughtful.”
Earlier this year he had a corneal transplant, which has restored some sight in one eye.
The first thing Sen-Constable Kenworthy was able to see after the transplant was his sister-in-law’s face.
“I saw her dark hair, compared with Sarah’s light hair.
“It was just breathtaking, I couldn’t believe it – and getting home and seeing my feet contrasting with the floor, and my son six feet away.
“I walked in (to work at the North Lakes Police Station) this morning and I could see the lockers with stuff on them and it’s only going to get better.”
Sen-Constable Kenworthy marvels at the work of the team that restored sight in his right eye.
He has a fixed focus lens, similar to those used after cataract surgery, and a man-made pupil and iris over which the donated cornea has been stitched.
“They tell me the iris is blue, to match what I had,” he chuckles.
“You take so many things for granted.
“I would dearly love to contact the family that were part of helping my recovery…it was the last kind thing that that person (his donor) has done,” he says, overcome by the incredible act of generosity.
He quickly recovers, explaining that he’s been a registered organ donor for years.
“I can’t see any risks – why not do it?
“But I’ll have to take corneas off the list of things I can give.”
Sen-Constable Kenworthy’s been riding motorcycles since 1986 and still has a passion for them, despite his accident.
“I absolutely love bikes – I still love them, but don’t tell my wife,” he laughs.
“It’s just the freedom – the smells you get in a car are the inside of the car, but when you’re on a bike you can smell the grass, the rain.
“When you get a couple of corners that go together really well, there’s no better feeling, you’re just in the zone.
“I was only on the police bike for just under 12 months – it’s such a sought-after role.
“It was the best job in the world, I absolutely loved it.”
It’s clear Sen-Constable Kenworthy’s wicked sense of humour has played a huge role in helping his recovery.
He says he’s in charge of the washing and folding at home, but not allowed to put clothes away lest they end up in the wrong drawer and he ends up wearing his wife’s t-shirts and it’s a running joke between the pair.
“Sarah, when I was first released from hospital, she would tell me I was getting dressed in a Spongebob Squarepants t-shirt, or a Kylie Minogue one – I had no clue what I was wearing, I had no way to disprove her!”
A music buff, Sen-Constable Kenworthy’s recently treated himself to a Fender Stratocaster and has also taken up playing the piano since the accident.
“I realised at the start I would have a little bit of spare time and there’s only so much guitar you can play in one day.”
He whips out his mobile phone, searching for recordings of his music to prove his point – sharing impressive guitar riffs and tuneful piano music.
“I can play with both hands,” he jokes.
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