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Farmers share accident experiences

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 10/03/2013 4:34 PM

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RICEVILLE, Iowa —Two years ago, Nick Leibold, a New Hampton farmer, was mowing a waterway with his father's 1962 Ford Tractor when he hit a fence post with wire wrapped around it.

"It just cleared the seat of the tractor, went into my back alongside my spine, went through my liver, my right diaphragm, my heart and cut three arteries in my back plus the vena cava vein, which is next to my heart," Leibold said.

Leibold and Fairbank farmer David Wheeler talked about their accidents during the Howard County 4-H Farm Safety Day program for adults and FFA members on Sept. 6 on the Steve and Rosalie Christensen farm near Riceville.

Leibold tried to grab his cell phone out of his pocket but collapsed.

A neighbor saw him and called 911. A first responder soon arrived and an ambulance took him to the New Hampton Hospital where an x-ray revealed the wire in his breast bone and heart. He was transferred to Rochester via Mayo. He had three major surgeries in four days. His chest was held in place with 143 staples and he went through 94 units of blood.

"They didn't think I was was going to make it," Leibold said. "They kept telling Kendra to prepare herself."

The first surgery took 10 hours and then things "went from worse to worser," Kendra said. "At 4:30 a.m., they did a surgery of last resort. It was just like something out of movie."

A blood infection followed, and a third surgery followed. Doctors worried about brain damage because he wasn't responding the way they hoped.

After 10 days in intensive care, he spent four days in recovery and then went home.

"I came home in a hospital gown and tennis shoes," Nick said.

Kendra believes Nick's guardian angel was with him the day of the accident. While they waited for the ambulance, a white haired farmer pulled up in a gleaming van. He asked if they needed help and shaded Nick from the sun. Kendra said she was never able to find anyone who knew anything about the man. She wanted to thank him.

"I think it was Nick's guardian angel sent by God in his moment of need," Kendra said.

The Mayo Clinic made a video of Nick's recovery, "Miracle in the Cornfield," which is available on YouTube.

Nick still has some breathing issues. The right side of his diaphragm hasn't fully recovered and he has internal chest pain, but he can function on the farm.

"I'm just happy to still be alive and to be here," Nick said.

Looking back, Nick said he should have used a tractor with a cab when he was mowing and he should have got off the tractor to see where the fence post and wire were located.

"We all need to be a little more proactive about safety issues," Leibold said.

Bin auger mangles Wheeler's hand and arm

David Wheeler admits that he never thought safety was important.

On Sept. 9, 2009, he was moving grain from a bin on a remote site. The closest house was about a football field away.

"Earlier in the day I put my sweep auger in and I was climbing in and out of the bin and moving the truck," Wheeler said.

The last time out of his truck, he threw his cell phone on the dash. It was nearly dead and he didn't want to lose it. As he went over the threshold of the bin, his boot heel caught on the door. As he turned to check his foot, his arm went into the sump in the bottom of the bin.

"I reached with my other arm and grabbed the auger," Wheeler said. "I knew if I could get it stopped, the belts would fry off and stop the auger."

His chest and arm were pinned to the floor and the sweep auger runner was across his hip.

He was able to pull out the cord on the sweep auger with his foot.

"The auger come across my wedding ring, which I never wear. It tried to cut off and my small finger," Wheeler said. "The pain was excruciating. I thought, this is the big one. I'm done. I laid there for a little bit, and then I did the only thing I could do, I said a prayer: 'Lord, you've got to show me how to get out of here. If this is where it's to end, okay. Take care of my kids, my wife and show me what you want.' "

A feeling immediately ran through his body that he would make it. His truck was running, but it had a device that shut it down after 10 minutes. When the truck stopped, he started yelling every 10 seconds.

"A school teacher lived in the house closest to me, and she had been undergoing cancer treatment," Wheeler said. "A friend came to check on her and put her dogs in. That day, she forgot to put the dogs in so around dark, the teacher went out to get her dogs. She thought she heard something and called a neighbor to check on it.

By the time the neighbor arrived, Wheeler had been in the bin 45 minutes. Within 20 to 30 minutes, he heard sirens. A first responder was quickly on the scene

"When he came in the bin and put his hand on my back, I knew I was going to make it," Wheeler said his voice cracking with emotion. "The safety people try their best, God bless them, but the situations we get into as farmers, there's just not an answer to all of them. I made one mistake and it nearly cost me my life. I did not shut that intermediate sump door and it caught me. I was able to crawl out of the mistake with a lot of people's help, and for that I am so thankful."

The firemen got him out, and he was transported by air ambulance to Rochester.

"They took great care of me at Mayo Clinic," Wheeler said. "The auger shaved my knuckles off. I have 80 percent of my movement. It cut my arm clear off severing both bones. I am so happy to have my arm and to be here to tell my story."

Wheeler is thankful for first responders.

"You are amazing," he said. "I don't know how you do it. I also want to thank my wife, Jeanne. She never left my side through the whole thing."