'He looked up at me and winked' - wife describes moment she knew her husband had survived high-speed bike crash
The wife of a man almost killed in a high-speed motorbike crash during a top race has spoken of the "incredibly special moment" she knew he had survived.
Relieved Karen Farquhar and top rider husband Ryan posed for pictures at a Belfast hospital just one week after he sustained terrible injuries in a high-speed North West 200 crash.
Ryan, from Dungannon in Co Tyrone, has been moved from intensive care to a general ward to continue his recovery from chest and liver injuries suffered in a 100mph accident during racing last Thursday night.
It happened close to the spot on the Portrush coast road where 20-year-old rising star Malachi Mitchell-Thomas lost his life in an accident on Saturday.
On Thursday night Karen and her two children, Mya and Keeley, witnessed the horror accident on the race big screens, which showed Ryan crashing out of the race and then being run over by fellow rider Dan Cooper, who also came off but escaped with a dislocated shoulder.
As Ryan was being flown to hospital by PSNI helicopter, anxious Karen was driven down to Belfast, fearing the worst, despite Ryan's efforts to reassure her in a message relayed through his wife's cousin, who happened to be at the scene of the crash.
Through tears, Karen said: "I walked into intensive care and Ryan was lying in the bed not really able to speak or communicate with us.
"He looked up at me and winked and then he squeezed my hand as tight as anything.
"It was such an incredibly special moment because I knew then that he was going to be still with us."
Karen's nightmare started as she waited in the pit lane at Portstewart for her husband to complete a lap during the Supertwins race last Thursday evening.
"I was watching the big screen like everyone else, an emotional Karen recalled. "Then I glanced away for a second and when I looked back I realised that there had been an accident.
"I didn't realise at first that it was Ryan, and even when I was told that it was him, I still expected him to come limping down through the paddock to me."
The race doctors quickly made Karen aware that her husband had serious injuries, and members of his SGS/KMR race team and friends rushed her to the Royal in Belfast.
"I went from being content to being worried all night long as I was given information by the doctors," Karen said.
"I was told that he had an injury to his liver. Then they told me the operation he had was a success, but I didn't really realise just how serious things had been until they explained that Ryan had had internal bleeding.
"They told me he was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to get the treatment that he needed."
Karen is hugely relieved to see Ryan well on the road to recovery. "It has been a real roller coaster," she said. "To see him getting better after being in intensive care just a couple of days ago feels like a miracle.
"There are no words to describe my gratitude to the race medics and the doctors and nurses at the Royal for everything they have done for Ryan. They saved his life."
Karen also told how, throughout his harrowing ordeal, Ryan still wanted to be kept informed about what was happening at the North West 200.
"Even when he was in intensive care, he twisted his wrist in the same way you twist a throttle to let me know that he wanted to know what was going on with the racing last Saturday," she said.
"We have had so much support from friends and family, from the team and from people that we didn't even know."
The devoted couple's daughters are now looking forward to getting their father home and treating him.
"Keeley wants to take him to a nice restaurant for a big feed, and Mya can't wait to get him home so he can take us to Tayto Park this summer," Karen said.
Ryan, meanwhile, paid tribute to the medical team who rushed to his aid.
"I can't thank the doctors enough who saved my life," the 40-year-old said. "Money couldn't pay them for what they have done for me."
He was initially treated at the roadside by Dr Fred MacSorley and the Motorcycle Union of Ireland medical team.
"I want to thank Fred and his team for everything they did for me," added Ryan. "I remember crashing and the marshals telling me not to move until Dr Fred got there. It is unreal how quickly he was able to work out what was wrong with me, and when I got to hospital they told me that whoever prepared me for the journey had saved my life."
As time went on, however, Ryan realised he was "in bad shape." "I was taken straight into surgery when I arrived at the Royal, and I was lucky that the top liver surgeon in the country was available to operate," he said.
He also remembers clearly the moment that he knew he was going to crash.
"I lost the front end, hit the safety bale and bounced back out into the road - it all happened so fast," he added.
The rider spent several days in the Royal's intensive care unit before he was able to join fellow racer Paul Gartland, who also suffered a lacerated liver in an earlier North West 200 crash, on a general ward, where he will stay for at least another week.
"The girls were here on Sunday and I am sure it was a shock for them to see me with so many wires and leads coming out of me," Ryan said.
"But they are back at school and they both did well in their sports day, so they will be all made up with that."
Farquhar added he was "very sad" to learn of the tragic death of 20-year-old Malachi Mitchell-Thomas, who lost his life in a horror accident close to the spot where the Dungannon man crashed.
"Having raced against Malachi, it was obvious to me that he was a huge talent," Ryan said.
"What has happened to the young fella is very sad. Malachi didn't do anything more wrong than I did, but I am still here to tell the tale and he is not."