Ag News -
State Ag News
Friday, 23 November 2012 15:08
By Gary Demuth
The Salina Journal
DELPHOS -- When a 12,000-pound tractor rolled over Steve Richard's midsection, he thought his luck finally had run out.
At age 65, Richard considered himself a fortunate man. He had been in good health most of his life. After 23 years as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force and 14 years as a commercial airline pilot, Richard had managed to stay out of harm's way.
He had a lot to be thankful for.
Riding a tractor on a windy March day, injury and possible death were the furthest things from his mind.
"You would think you'd be safer on the ground than in the air, but that isn't always the case," said Richard, 66.
Since retiring from Southwest Airlines in 2006, Richard and his wife, Jane, had been enjoying life on their 800-acre rural Delphos property, situated near the intersection of Kansas highways 81 and 24.
Richard had purchased an International Harvester 766 tractor and tried his hand at farming. In his spare time, he would join a crew of area farmers to do controlled burns in their pastures.
On March 28, Richard and a crew were doing a controlled burn on 80 acres of his pasture.
Been a good weekend
It had been a good weekend. Richard had just returned home from St. Louis, where he had attended and celebrated the Kansas Jayhawks' victory in the NCAA Midwest Regional basketball tournament finals.
Winds were moderate on that Wednesday, and temperatures mild. Richard and five other farmers decided to do a couple of burns, first on a neighbor's pasture, then on Richard's.
"About 2 p.m., we started burning on the north end of my pasture," Richard said. "The accident happened at 3:45 p.m."
Richard had a water tank on the back of his tractor and was putting out fire with a water hose. He noticed some flames moving down a ravine and onto Highway 24, so he drove his tractor onto the highway to contain the fire.
Unfortunately, with the flames came smoke, which made Richard's tractor almost invisible.
"I drove through the smoke, and a guy came behind me," he said.
Hit him from behind
A utility truck had been eastbound on Highway 24 and was immersed in the cloud of smoke rolling across the road. The driver did not see the slow-moving tractor in front of him and slammed into its rear.
"He told me he was going about 55 mph when he hit me," Richard said.
Richard hit his head on a metal roll bar and canopy at the top of the tractor and was thrown onto the highway. The truck was stopped, but the tractor continued to move forward.
Richard had rolled over on his back. The next thing he knew, the large left rear tire was rolling across his lower midsection.
Richard said he had a heightened awareness of everything that was happening to him. As he saw the tractor tire heading toward his midsection, he remembered thinking, "Oh, this isn't going to feel good."
Strangely, he didn't feel any pain.
"A body knows enough to shut down the pain, I guess," he said.
After the tire rolled over him, Richard said he managed to sit up in the road and wiggle his toes,
"I was relieved that I wasn't paralyzed," he said.
The tractor continued moving until it got stuck in a ravine.
The other men arrived on the scene and carefully pulled Richard to the side of the road. An EMT unit from Miltonvale was called. After examining Richard, paramedics decided he should be flown to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.
Honey, I bumped my head
Richard was coherent enough to make a phone call to his wife, who had been out taking a walk on their property that afternoon.
"He told me he fell off the tractor and bumped his head," Jane said. "I drove to the scene, and then the phone rang again. It was Steve, and he told me to go to Wichita. I didn't see him until I saw him in the trauma unit in Wichita."
After numerous tests and X-rays, doctors told Richard he had a crushed pelvis and would have to have surgery so it could be stabilized with a steel plate.
"But I didn't have internal bleeding or anything," he said.
Trauma surgeon Dr. Bruce Buhr -- like Richard, a pilot -- successfully placed a stainless steel plate with 12 screws into Richard's pelvic region.
After nine days at Wesley, Richard spent a week at Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital.
Takes a lot of time
Once home, Richard knew his recovery would take a lot of time and effort.
"I couldn't bear weight for two or three months," he said. "I was in a wheelchair for two months and slept in a hospital bed in my living room."
By the first of June, Richard was able to stand and move with the aid of a walker. He then progressed to crutches, and then a cane.
By the middle of August, he was walking without assistance.
"It was amazing," Jane said.
Richard will always have that steel plate screwed into his pelvis, but he doesn't mind.
"I know I'll set off metal detectors in airports," he said. "I guess I'll take my X-rays into the airport to prove I have metal in my body."
Grateful for so much
This Thanksgiving, the Richards plan to spend the day with their two sons and their wives and three grandchildren in the Kansas City area.
This year especially, Richard said, he has a lot to be thankful for.
"I'm thankful for being alive," he said. "I guess I was always conscious that time is limited on earth. But when you get run over, it lets you know time really is limited."
Richard is thankful for the "good medical help I had," beginning with the Miltonvale EMTs and the helicopter crew, and continuing with the doctors and nurses and rehabilitation specialists in Wichita. He's also grateful for the support of all his friends during his recovery.
But Richard said he is most thankful for the care and support of his family, especially his wife, who is a trained nurse.
"When I was home, she cared for me 24 hours a day," he said.
Jane said her husband was determined to walk again without having to permanently use a walker or cane.
"You have to take it one day at a time," she said. "He worked hard and surpassed what the doctors expected."
God's healing hands
Jane said her husband's accident and his miraculous recovery allowed both of them to "witness God's power and his healing hands."
"We'll praise God this Thanksgiving, for sure," she said. "(Steve) had lots of angels with him that day."
Since his accident, Richard has purchased another tractor -- this one, he said, with an enclosed cab.
"I'm going to stay off the highways now," he said. "And I think I retired from controlled burning. I'll leave that to the young guys."
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