Farm safety is so important! Unfortunately, accidents do happen. We spoke with Gary Lechleitner, who was kind enough to share his farm accident story with us. As owner and operator of a farm located in the town of Rietbrock in Marathon County, he tells us how he overcame his accident and proves that farm life can continue after hardship.
Gary grew up farming. He loved his farm and worked hard every day. But in 2003, an unfortunate accident forced Gary to take a new approach to working on the farm.
January 15, 2003 was a frigid morning of negative 4 degree temperatures. Gary, who was 41 at the time, bundled up in coveralls and a hooded sweatshirt, and made his way to the barn. While watering the heifers, he accidentally splashed some water on his sweatshirt.
Gary proceeded to haul manure up to a nearby field, and decided to scrape the spreader to avoid freezing. Gary’s father had just fixed the manure spreader the week before, and forgot to put the shield back on the shaft. In a matter of seconds, Gary’s wet sweatshirt got caught in the cold steel, ripping his clothes off.
Gary was all alone, wearing nothing but barn boots. The field was located on a hill above his house. His shirt collar had become caught, and was now wrapped around the power take-off shaft and his arm. Gary tried and tried to tear the shirt, but to no avail. He had no choice but to watch as the collar became tighter and tighter. Ultimately, his arm was pinched off, dislocating his elbow and leaving only three damaged nerves behind.
“I would have been dead,” said Gary. “It was choking me, and there was no way I could hang on. I kept thinking, ‘I need to hang on just a bit longer; I want to walk my daughter down the aisle.’”
Thankfully, someone stopped by Gary’s neighbor’s house and noticed him in the field. Gary instructed him to shut the tractor off and call 911. Gary was taken to a hospital in Wausau, where the doctor who was called in to complete the amputation just arrived from Chicago. Fortunately, the doctor along with the vascular surgeon decided to reattach the arm.
After Gary’s accident, he couldn’t work on the farm, due to the open wound. He was off of work for over a year. Since it was just Gary and his wife on the farm, they ended up hiring his cousin to help out.
Gary went to physical therapy every day for three weeks; he made it five weeks and then got an infection. Gary was readmitted to the hospital for 13 more days and underwent three more surgeries in hopes of saving the arm and getting the infection under control. Then the daily trips to wound therapy began. Wound therapy is the process of letting the skin grow by peeling off the bandage and scratching the skin with needles, allowing it to heal better. He had to wear a fixator on his arm for four months. This allowed his fractured bones to remain stabilized and maintain alignment.
Gary had the option to go back to school and train for another profession, but he was eager to get back to farm chores. While his arm still limits him and the scar tissue is intertwining with the nerves, he’s learning to overcome these setbacks.
“PTO shafts still scare me to this day” said Gary. “But my wife and I grew up as farmers. This is what we want to do. It’s how we want to raise our kids. I have limitations on what I can do, but I still love farming.”
Gary provided some advice to other farmers to help prevent accidents like this from happening.
“Take time off, enjoy your family and get a mental break, or you will pay for it,” said Gary. “We as farmers are never going to get all of the work done, so it’s good to remember that the work will always be there for you to get back to the next day. And, most importantly, don’t rush. Ask yourself – if you are not around for your family, then what?”