Woman pushes for helmet bill in mom’s memory

Sharon Birge died after hitting her head while whitewater rafting

Sharon and Robert Birge in an undated photo. (Courtesy photo)

CLACKAMAS, Ore. (KOIN) — A local woman is honoring her late mother this Mother’s Day by pushing for a bill that would help save lives on local rivers.

Shawna Wellman told KOIN 6 News she lost her mom, Sharon Birge, 2 years ago after going whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River without wearing helmets.

“I think about her every day,” Wellman said. “Mother’s Day is definitely tougher.”

She said their boat tipped sideways after hitting the second rapid.

“My mom fell from one side of the raft into the raft,” Wellman said. “She hit her head on something in the raft. She didn’t fall outside of the raft and hit a rock.”

Wellman said the company they went through didn’t provide helmets.

Shawna Wellman is pushing for a bill that would require whitewater rafting guides to carry helmets, May 14, 2017. (KOIN)

“I went over and asked her if she was OK and she didn’t know,” she recalled. “She couldn’t tell me she was OK.”

Birge was airlifted to Oregon Health & Science University where doctors discovered bleeding in her brain. She was put under anesthesia and intubated.

Wellman said her mother died days later.

“It’s been so difficult, not for just us… her mom is still here, her sisters are still alive, we relive it every day,” Wellman said.

Now she’s pushing for state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 643, also known as the helmet bill. It would require rafting guides to carry a rescue throw bag, life jackets and helmets when they go out on the water.

Sharon Birge died after hitting her head while whitewater rafting 2 years ago. (Courtesy photo)

Wellman said it’s a common sense law, and that helmets need to be available.

“There’s no requirements for people to wear them [now],” she said.

While the passage of the bill won’t bring her mom back, Wellman said she hopes it will save lives and prevent any other families from going through a similar tragedy.

“If your mom is still here, call her today,” she said. “Give her a hug, tell her you love her because you never know when they are not going to be there anymore.”