Devastating accident doesn’t stop this farmer from getting back to work

Jul 24, 2020  | 7 min  | Ep4549

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: I grew up here. The family farm is South of the Lake, and I went to school here and I just stayed here. And in 1990 I bought my own farm.”

Twenty-four years after starting work on his northwestern Iowa farm, Rick Meister began another day of harvest on his operation near Lake View.   

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: “October 8th, 2014, the Saturday of Labor Day that we had some wind storms come through and we had some corn come down. So I said, ‘We’re gonna go out and open up the field so the chopper can come through.”

As day turned slowly to dusk, the downed corn began jamming in the combine head.

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: “I was going through, the head plugged once, I shut everything off, got out, unplugged it, got back in the combine. The head filled up, again, with the downed corn. I shut it off, got back out, got it unplugged. Well, I was going along the next time. Well, it happened, again. Well, I don't know, frustration or whatever, just. I had the corn head down. I left, I left the combine run. It was my own fault. I left it run. Well. I was out there and I ‘bout, had all the corn stocks left and I reached and the second row gathering chain, grabbed my blue jeans. Well, the chain did its job; it gathered me in and I had to hold myself out otherwise I would have went through the corn head. It cut off my left leg, above the calf, about the calf area.

And it also had the right leg, but I fell to the ground before it cut the right leg all the way off.”

Jared, one of his three sons, was the first to arrive.

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: “So he walked around the end of the combine. He seen me. He goes, ‘Dad, what do I got to do?’ I said, ‘We got to stop the bleeding.’”

Jared phoned his brother Jake to come to the scene of the accident and provide more help. Eventually, both boys used their belts as tourniquets on their father’s legs.

EMS arrived. An attempt to get a Life Flight helicopter failed and Meister was taken about 10 miles to the nearest hospital in Sac City. Meister’s wife, Jackie was brought to the emergency room.

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: “And then they finally got a hold of Life Flight, but it was going to be 45 minutes. And by then the priest came and the boys got Jackie, who was home here working. They got her. And we said our goodbyes and that's the last I remember.”

He was airlifted to a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska for emergency surgery.

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: And then I woke up in Omaha, like at 2:30 in the morning.

The doctor came into the room and spoke with the family.

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: “And he says, ‘Boys, your dad's been through hell.’ And he goes, ‘I had to do the hardest thing a doctor does is ask for the saw in surgery.’… He said, ‘You know, but I can see your dad. He's going to move on. He's going to make it.’”

Meister spent eight days in the hospital and another 11 in a Lincoln, Nebraska rehabilitation center. Before leaving for home, he was told about a provision in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act called AgrAbility. The federal program helps producers with disabilities get started on the farm or return to farm life after a serious accident.

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: She goes, ‘is there a program that helps farmers out in Iowa?’ ‘Boy, I don't know.’ You know? And she goes, ‘well, ‘every state has one,’ you know, but it's probably not the same program. Well, they did some searchin’ and they found out it was Easter Seals for me. So they have, they set it up. So then when I got home, I called Easter Seals.”

Tracy Keninger is the director of the program run by Easter Seals Iowa, located in the capitol city of Des Moines.

Tracy Keninger, Director, Rural Solutions, Easter Seals Iowa: “Easter Seals, Rural Solutions Program started in 1986, even prior to AgrAbility. We were one of the first programs in the entire country who arranged a program specifically for farming with a disability... In any given year we'll support anywhere from 130 to 150 Iowa farm family members with disabilities. .. We travel directly to the farms and work one-on-one with farm family members with disabilities. And it's not really just working with the person with the disability, it's working with the entire unit and we're right by their side, every step along the way until they can fully rehabilitate and be engaged in the farming operation after the onset of their disability.”

Meister began working with the non-profit that has a 90-year history of helping anyone with a disability or special needs. There is no charge for the Rural Solutions service however there is a cost associated with some equipment. Meister paid a nominal fee for a motorized wheel chair and a specialized tricycle.

Meister experimented with some of his own solutions but he had mixed results.

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: “…. Well, I said, ‘boys, let's weld a tractor seat on the end of that, fit on the skid loader. And I'd sit on this. And it worked to get me an attractor and stuff, but I had to wait to somebody who was there to get me out. Like if I got done, I'd have to wait. And the boys seen this, lift at, uh, at the Farm Progress show one time. And they said, ‘Dad, this is what you need.’“

Rural Solutions assisted in acquiring the specialized lift that makes it easier for him to get around the farm.

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: “I can go three inches off the ground or 12 feet high. …It has got me into anything I want; combine tractor, skid loader, the older tractors, you know, it has got me so far. I haven't got stuck yet.”

Meister has often reflected on what happened that day nearly five years ago, but he has never let the outcome of the accident stop him from getting back to work.

Rick Meister, farmer, Lake View, Iowa: “Yeah, we made that decision in the hospital. I said, ‘Jackie, we're going to try.’ And my wife, she was a motivator. And, with the kids I wanted to, you know, we had too many plans at the farm that I wanted to see completed. And you know, we were in the process, but you know how that all takes time. And yeah, this was, I, I didn't want to sit. I wanted to kept going.”

For Market to Market, I’m David Miller.


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