Wichita family advocates bike helmets after man's accident

Steven Darrow was a promising young graphic artist who had worked on high-profile projects and held successful art shows at Final Friday.

He was "just on the cusp of a fabulous career," said Michele Benefiel Guiol, his mother.

That all changed one night last summer.

Darrow, 23, was "messing around" on his bicycle with a group of friends next to the old Cox Building on Douglas next to the railroad overpass, she said.

Darrow couldn't afford a car, so he rode his bicycle everywhere.

He and his friends were swerving in and out of pillars after sunset on July 25 when Darrow slammed into one. He fell backward, breaking his right clavicle and fracturing his skull in several places.

He wasn't wearing a helmet.

"He was an avid bicyclist, but he wasn't a safe bicyclist," Benefiel Guiol said. "He never wore a helmet."

"I bought him a bicycle helmet for his graduation" from Wichita State University last spring, she said. "He never took it out of the box."

When she saw him at the hospital, Benefiel Guiol said, he was hooked up to eight IV tubes and a brain pressure monitor.

Her first question to the doctors, she said, was about organ donation.

"They did not expect him to live," she said.

Darrow beat the odds, but his brain injury was so traumatic that doctors had to remove part of his frontal lobe, Benefiel Guiol said.

He had to learn to do everything all over again: walk, eat, handle basic tasks.

He now lives with his parents, able to answer questions but unable to carry on a conversation.

"We're trying to get him back to the way he was — as close to that as possible," Benefiel Guiol said. "We're far, far from where it was."

She estimates about 40 percent of her son's personality has returned — and they're not sure when or if the rest will.

"He is like a different person," she said. "Every once in a while, we'll see the old Steven come out.

"All this from hitting a pillar — making a bad choice," she said. "He's goofing around at 23 years old, and this is what's happened to him."

His mother hopes to use Darrow's accident to increase awareness about the value of bicycle helmets.

His friends have organized an art show and sale at Jones Gallery on Commerce Street for the Final Friday Art Crawl this week.

All proceeds will be donated to the Friends for Steven Darrow fund, which helps pay for his rehabilitation therapy.

Eventually, Benefiel Guiol said, the family hopes to start a company that manufactures bicycle helmets with Darrow's artwork on them.

"We're trying to find something good from this," she said.