South Dakota farmer struggles to recover from combine accident |

South Dakota farmer struggles to recover from combine accident

Farming is considered one of the country’s most dangerous occupations … big machines, moving parts, never enough time, rushing to get finished before it rains … almost every day there are chances for things to go wrong.

So it was Sept. 30 this year on a farm near Colome, S.D., when John Russell, helping a family friend harvest soybeans, was driving a tractor and pulling the grain cart behind the combine when he noticed a bearing on the combine going bad. John signaled to the operator and jumped off his tractor to check the bearing, crawling underneath the combine to look for the part number. He crawled out and told the operator he’d go get their service truck. Then, John crawled back under the combine to re-check the part number.

The combine operator, thinking John was gone, decided to move the combine closer to the field end to make the repairs. When he put the combine in gear, the rear combine wheels ran over John’s body.

The 911 call went out immediately and within minutes John was on his way to the hospital in nearby Winner, S.D. Emergency room doctors there knew his injuries were too severe for the smaller hospital and John was transported to Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls.

He was immediately taken into surgery to begin repairing his mutilated mid-section. His injuries included a broken femur, separated pelvis, left arm broken in two places, broken ribs, a punctured lung and internal injuries that included damage to his diaphragm, liver, gall bladder and pancreas. During the three days at Sanford Hospital, John had nine blood transfusions and 16 surgery procedures. Determining that he needed even higher levels of treatment, doctors had an air ambulance transport John to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Still at Mayo, John is receiving continued treatment for his injuries, and an extensive program of physical and occupational therapy to help him regain his health. His dad, Ken Russell, and his fiancée Heather O’Bryan, have been by John’s bedside most of the time he’s been in the hospital. “He was in ICU for almost a full month,” Heather says. “He’s out of ICU now, but he has different therapists working with him three to four times every day. He has two physical therapists, one for his broken hand and one that helps him regain his ability to walk.”

John also has occupational therapists working with him nearly every day, plus a special wound care team that maintains treatment of his abdominal and internal injuries. He still has two drain tubes in his abdomen and doctors still drain fluid buildup from his broken femur. His trachea has been taken out, and Heather says he’s able to talk only in a whisper.

He’s learning to walk, but still has an external framework that helps hold his broken pelvis in place. “John gets frustrated with his therapy sessions,” says his dad. “The OTs insist that he sit in his wheelchair to eat, but by the time he’s ready, his food gets cold.”

To date, John has now had a total of 29 “procedures” … surgeries and related treatments. The end is not in sight, but Heather says John will be transferred back to Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls soon, for continued treatment closer to home. John has been farming for 10 years and, at age 29, hopes to continue farming.

“John is a fine, hard-working Christian young man,” says his dad. “He’s a real asset to his community.”

John and Heather have two young daughters, Savannah, 7, and Bayley, 6. “Their dad’s accident has been traumatic for them, but they’re hanging in there as best they can,” his dad said. “It’s been tough, because I have been by John’s bedside almost full-time since he’s been at Mayo’s. Thank goodness, we have great neighbors and friends back home.”

John’s boss has kept him on his full salary since the accident, even paying for the hotel stays for John’s family at Mayo’s. “Years ago, his boss lost one of his hands in an auger accident, so he knows personally much of what John is going through,” Heather says.

In fact, John’s employer and his neighbors and family have established the “John Russell Donation Fund” at their local Wells Fargo Bank, to help pay the medical bills for John. According to his dad, contributions can be made to the fund at any Wells Fargo Bank branch. ❖

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