Tim’s Story

Site created on October 27, 2020

On October 17, 2020 Tim and Debbie Ellis were riding their road bikes as usual for a Saturday morning.  Some small diameter tree branches from a Eucalyptus tree had fallen into the bike lane.  These branches were very small, like twigs, and dark colored like the road surface, so hard to see.  Debbie was in front and saw them at the last minute.  She pointed to the branches for Tim to avoid, and swerved herself to avoid hitting the branches.  She clipped the side of the branch pile and some of the branches were thrown into Tim's front wheel.  This stopped Tim's wheel and he was thrown over the handlebars.

There were several people nearby, as this was a residential street.  Tim was lying on his side.  He said he was having trouble breathing.  Debbie gave him rescue breaths.  In between she asked people to call 911, to block the road to oncoming traffic, and to go across the street to a fire station and get help there.  Help came within a few minutes and Tim was put on oxygen and a back board.  He said he could not feel his legs or arms.  He was taken by ambulance to Stanford Trauma Center in Palo Alto, in the intensive care ward.

Tim had severe injuries to his neck and spinal cord.  He had two surgeries at Stanford on his neck -- one from the front and another a few days later from the back.  These surgeries were to relieve pressure on his swollen spinal cord and stabilize his neck with metal rods.  The surgeries went well but Tim had to remain on a ventilator with some breathing assistance, and a feeding tube.  He was unable to move except wiggle his toes and shrub his shoulders.  He had full control of his face.  He was unable to talk due to the breathing tube in his mouth.  But at the scene of the accident he was talking and was of sound mind.  His brain was OK.

Tim was transferred to Kaiser Santa Clara Hospital after a week.  On October 27 the breathing tube was removed and he was able to talk.  He had a swallowing test and was able to start eating soft food and drinking liquids.  He started physical therapy a few days ago and his movement has improved so that he is able to move both his leg quad muscles up down and to the sides.  He can move the front of his leg and foot on both legs.  He can shrub his shoulders.  He can slightly move the  middle finger of his right hand.  Most of his sensory nerves are OK, it was motor nerves that were damaged, and his spinal cord in his neck.

The plan for Tim is to eventually transfer to a live-in rehabilitation facility that specializes in spinal cord injuries.  He will spend weeks to months there.  Where and when that will be is undecided as of 10/28.  Tim's prognosis is uncertain and we will not know how much functionality he will recover until a year after the accident.  I think the most important thing that people can do for Tim is to pray for his full recovery.

Newest Update

Journal entry by Debbie Ellis

Obituary for Tim Ellis, November 21, 1955 – January 7, 2021.  Age 65.  

Timothy Edward Ellis was born in Southern California to William Charles Ellis and Joyce Allen, both of Minnesota.  Tim grew up in Southern California and lived in the cities of Palos Verdes, Baldwin Hills, and Woodland Hills.  He graduated from El Camino High School in Woodland Hills, where he was on the football and wrestling teams.  After high school he attended Pierce Junior College in Woodland Hills. Tim then transferred to Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electronic Engineering in 1981.  In 1980 he met another student at Cal Poly, Deborah Dobbs, and they were married in 1983 until Tim’s death.  Their daughter, Sara, was born in 1989.  After graduation from Cal Poly, Tim worked in the computer and electronics industries at several companies in the San Francisco Bay Area: Intel, a small startup in Cupertino, Altos Computer, Molecular Dynamics, Amersham which was eventually purchased by General Electric, and finally Forte Bio.  In 2008 Tim left the electronics industry and joined his wife to work with Debbie in her own business as a consulting arborist and horticulturist.  In that capacity he was instrumental in developing software and programs for the business.  He also served as engineer in charge of acoustic and electric tomography of tree trunks and large branches, used to image hidden interior decay and cavities.  This was the first use of this technology in the western United States, and Debbie could not have done it without Tim. 


 In 2016 both Tim and Debbie retired and were able to spend more time volunteering, traveling, and participating in their various hobbies.  Tim had many hobbies which included: cycling (both road and mountain bike), hang gliding, kayaking, brewing beer, cooking, baking (especially fine cakes and pastries), flying remote control planes and gliders, building and racing remote control cars, hiking, and downhill skiing.  Tim spent a few years after retiring taking art classes at nearby West Valley College in Saratoga.  He took several sessions of bronze wax sculpture casting as well as drawing and painting classes.  He loved spending time at the Tahoe/Truckee vacation house bought in 2012 where he and Debbie would hike, mountain bike and ski and work on trails.  He was a member of the South Bay Soaring Society through which he participated in remote control glider flying and competitions.  He was a very good home beer brewer and had taken several brewing classes through the U.C. Davis Brewing Science Department.  He brewed beer in his garage brewery every month or two with his good friend, Bill.


 Tim’s many volunteer activities before and after retirement included coaching the Robotics Club at Independence High School in San Jose, building and maintaining hiking and mountain biking trails in the San Francisco Bay area and Tahoe, working at the food bank of the West Valley Community Center, helping at COVID testing sites and serving in the Saratoga CERT (Community Emergency Response Team).  He also served as the first room “dad” one of the years Sara was in elementary school, when previously only women did that job.  He was active in the cycling community and a member of Almaden Cycle Touring Club and Western Wheelers Bicycle Clubs.  He volunteered as a bike mechanic and in various other capacities for the annual century rides that these clubs put on.  Tim was the Logistics Chair for Almaden’s Tierra Bella Century in 2017, 2018 and 2019.  He was the president of Western Wheelers in the early 1990’s.  He was a member of the WSK (Western Sea Kayakers) and BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) clubs for 8 years.  He was the webmaster for the BASK club and did much to improve their online interactive Trip Planner.   All that knew Tim understood what a kind and giving person he was.


 Tim died suddenly and unexpectedly on January 7, 2021 due to Sudden Cardiac Death; a complication of the serious bicycle accident he had on October 17, 2020.  As a result of the accident, Tim broke his neck and severely injured his spinal cord.  He was hospitalized from October 17 through December 10, 2020.  From November 4 to December 10, he had the good fortune of being treated at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Spinal Cord Injury Unit in the Rehabilitation section of the hospital.  At Valley Med he improved enough to come home and continue physical and occupational therapy there.  His positive attitude, hard work with therapies and amazing physical improvement impressed his doctors and all that spent time with him.  Because of his remarkable rehabilitation progress, we were hopeful that Tim would be taking his first supported steps soon.  Unfortunately, he was taken from us before that happened.  A tribute to Tim, on the Northern California Spinal Cord Injury Foundation web site, can be viewed from this link: https://norcalsci.org/tim-ellis


 Tim is survived by his wife Debbie of almost 38 years, his daughter Sara (Raleigh, North Carolina) and sister Nancy (Sacramento).  He is preceded in death by his parents Bill and Joyce and brother Paul.  Everyone that knew Tim felt that he was a good, kind and giving person.  Always ready to help, always with a positive attitude.  He was not religious, but he lived his life like a true Christian. 


 A memorial service will be held for Tim after the threat of the COVID virus has subsided, hopefully in the Summer or Fall of 2021.  Details will be posted on the Caringbridge web site.


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