A miracle. That’s what Don and Mary Tschida of Pierz call Don surviving a farming accident last year.
“Looking back, it’s a miracle that he is still with us and that he can virtually do everything he did before the accident,” Mary said. “It was faith and prayer that held us together.”
Don said he had finished harvesting oats July 31, 2018 when he decided to bale the outskirts of a nearby field to make it easier for the person who was coming to bale the field the next day.
“It was getting late so I was kind of in a hurry because I wanted to get it done before it got dark,” he said.
After he raked the area and returned to his John Deere 4040 tractor that was parked in the field, it wouldn’t start.
Don said the tractor having difficult starting wasn’t new to him. It had been acting up since spring, but if he made a certain motion with the key, it usually would start right up. Except for that July evening, he said.
“I went and got my pickup and figured I would just jump start the tractor,” he said.
Jump starting the tractor was successful. But as he was standing near the battery in front of the left back tire, he suddenly felt something on his leg. Looking down, he realized the tractor’s back tire was making its way up his leg. Before he knew it he was being forced to the ground by the tractor.
“I remember thinking that I had to try to get away as far as I possibly could,” he said.
The back tractor tire rolled over Don’s entire left side. It barely missed his head.
“To me, it happened in slow motion, but I am thinking it happened pretty fast,” he said.
Don said he only remembers the tire going up his leg. He blacked out shortly after that.
A while later, Don woke up laying in the field about 20 yards from where he had parked the pickup truck. The only explanation about how he ended up there is that somehow he was caught in and dragged by the round baler that was hitched to the tractor.
Don said when he woke up, he tried to scream for help, but couldn’t. He also tried to get up and walk, but even crawling was impossible, he said.
Although Don carries a cellphone with him, he usually leaves it in a compartment in the tractor. But the tractor had kept going and didn’t stop until it hit a tree line and stalled.
“There was no way I could get it. The tractor was gone and I couldn’t move,” he said.
Don said when he carries his cellphone on him, it’s usually in his left pocket. Even if it would have been in his pocket, his injuries were too severe for him to have been able to grab it, he said.
Going in and out of consciousness, Don said he suddenly woke up with the cellphone in his hand. How it got there still remains a mystery. The Tschidas and many others believe it was a divine intervention, Don said.
“How it got out of my pocket and that it didn’t get damaged when I was run over and that I was able to use it, it’s a miracle,” he said.
Don called 911 and told the dispatcher what had happened. He also requested that his son, Calvin Tschida, be called. Not only does Calvin live nearby, but as a police officer and first responder, Don knew Calvin would know what to do.
His next call was to his wife, Mary.
“There was a huge amount of fear, but at first I didn’t realize the extent of his injuries. Calvin did though,” she said.
Mary said 30 people from the Pierz Fire Department, Pierz Police Department and the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office responded to Don’s accident
Don was airlifted by a Life Link III helicopter and brought to St. Cloud Hospital. It was discovered his left lung was punctured, that he had broken all 12 of the ribs on his left side, some at several places. He had also broken his clavicle (collar bone), his hip bone and pelvis and was bleeding internally.
Since he had to be intubated before he was airlifted, he had been sedated. After two days, an orthopedic surgeon operated on his ribs by inserting a metal plate with screws on each side in each of the breaks.
Although patients who break their ribs are typically told to let them heal on their own, Don said his orthopedic surgeon believed in fixing them as it meant a faster recovery, less pain and that the ribs would heal perfectly.
“St. Cloud is only one of a handful of hospitals in the state of Minnesota that has an orthopedic surgeon that fixes ribs,” Mary said.
It took Don nearly seven days to respond and wake up from being sedated.
As the clavicle wasn’t healing favorably, Don went through a surgery at Regions Hospital in St. Paul to plate his collar bone to assure it would heal correctly.
Don was hospitalized for a month and was able to come home once he felt confident he could transfer himself from the wheel chair to the bed or to the bathroom.
As time went by and he worked hard at regaining mobility and strength through occupational therapy and physical therapy, he became better. By November 2018, he was walking with a cane and is now able to walk without one, he said.
One thing that has humbled both Don and Mary is the amazing support their neighbors, friends, community and others have shown since the accident.
While he was in the hospital, their neighbors, along with their sons, Adam and Calvin, harvested the crops and helped keep the farm going.
The Tschidas have a broiler barn, beef cattle and crop farm corn, oats and soybeans that are used to feed the cattle and to sell.
Since Don and Mary burn wood for heat, Mary said several deputies from Carver County Sheriff’s office where Calvin used to work came out to the farm and cut wood. On a different day, the officers with the Dakota County SWAT team that Adam worked with, came.
“It has been such a humbling experience for us with all the people helping. We are so grateful,” Don said.
Since the accident, Don has tried to make sense of how it could have happened. He is well-known among family, friends and others for being very safety minded.
At one point, he spoke with representatives at Midwest Machinery Company, to see if it was at all possible for a John Deere 4040 to jump out of park into gear. He was told it was not.
In hindsight, Don said he must have somehow missed that the leveler wasn’t completely in park because of stressing to get done before dark.
“I have such a hard time believing that it was in gear because we are so careful around here and I just have never done that,” he said.
While coming home was a great a step in the right direction, it also brought back memories of the accident. Don said he recalls the feeling he had when one of his sons started up one of the tractors.
“The tractor started up and they backed it. It just kind of gives you the chills,” he said.
He also struggled with sleeping. In one way, he figured it would be good to go through the accident step by step in his mind, but at the same time, he also wanted to shy away from remembering.
Don, who is a veteran and served four years in the United States Navy and 16 years in the National Guard, said eventually he went to the VA Health Care System to see a counselor. Because of his symptoms in relation to his traumatic experience, he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
Don encourages farmers who are dealing with tough times to see a counselor, if needed, as it helps to just vent.
“You don’t have to be in an accident to go. Farmers deal with a lot now,” he said.
Besides having someone to talk to, Don said his counselor has given him various tools he can use whenever he experiences various symptoms, such as breathing techniques and more.
It comes in very handy when he gets into the tractor and ends up battling anxiety.
“It takes time,” he said.
Even though it was an accident, Don said he battles feelings of guilt for putting his family through the journey they have been on for the last year.
He encourages farmers to always place safety first, focus at one task at a time and to not cut corners when they are stressed.
“If it’s broken, don’t wait to get it fixed,” he said.
Eventually Don found out why the tractor had difficulty starting. He said it needed a new relay — a $60 fix.
While Don still experience soreness, he is thrilled he can do the things he did before, even if it takes him a little longer.
Don said before the accident happened, he had planned to participate in a 100-mile bicycle ride. Being able to do it again was a goal he kept at the forefront as he recovered.
He, their daughter Amanda, Adam and Calvin recently reach that goal.
“That was a great feeling,” he said.
Looking back at their journey over the last year, Don said it has brought their family closer.
“It’s a second chance at life,” he said.