The Ottumwa Courier

November 14, 2012

Lifelong farmer loses a leg, gains a purpose

LAURA CARRELL
Courier Staff Writer

BLOOMFIELD — When a lifelong farmer found himself in need, he was bound and determined to find the help that would keep him on his farm.

Along the way, he found a network of experts and the opportunity to be a blessing for others.

Jerry Padget, 67, of rural Bloomfield, is the fourth generation of his family to farm this part of Davis County. His grandfather was born right down the road from where Padget lives today, and they have been working to restore the family house. All of his ancestors lived within shouting distance of the house Padget now calls home.

Over the years the family has grown corn, soybeans and hay. Livestock was also part of the farming operation until life took a turn.

In May 2011, Padget had his right leg amputated just below the knee. It was a sudden, unexpected moment in his life, and he says it changed everything about how he lived.

“The doctor said, ‘I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that we’re going to amputate. The good news is that you’ll be up and walking on a new leg in 90 days.’ I didn’t believe him at all,” Padget said.

After a few days in Iowa City, he went through rehabilitation in Ottumwa. It actually took fewer than the 90 days expected when Padget was walking with a prosthetic leg and a cane. His newest “bionic” leg is an amazing advancement. Its laser technology senses elevation with him and moves like a normal ankle. The laser and microprocessor allow for more natural movement than any prosthetic he’s had before.

While life may never be back to the way it once was, Padget says it has become near-normal after 18 months. This includes farming again, but with some serious modifications to the way his daily work is done. There are many things he’s not able to do himself, like climbing ladders and getting the caps off the steel bins.

The most important thing he realized was that he wouldn’t be able to climb into his farm machinery anymore. This was a serious obstacle, and he knew he needed help to continue.

“Farming is our livelihood. If we just got out, like someone would do with a town job, we’d have to have another job to keep on living,” he explained. “I was born and raised on a farm. It’s all I know. I’ve been right in this area all my life.”

Knowing this desire to stay in farming, Padget was referred to Easter Seals through the area Vocational Rehabilitation. Modifications to daily living would be needed if he was going to remain on the farm.

“Easter Seals, they’re my mentors,” Padget said. “Without them, I probably wouldn’t still be in farming.”

Chuck Larson, a rural rehabilitation specialist with Easter Seals Iowa, was able to show Padget several solutions and safety features that are being used statewide to help farmers with many different injuries and illnesses stay active.

“We came up with technological devices to help him stay in farming. That includes steps and lifts for his machinery and an ATV to keep him mobile, going from one farm to another,” Larson said. “We had to find a safe way for him to continue farming.”

For Padget, accessibility was the main issue, having limited mobility with his amputated leg. The most dramatic change has been his combine lift. Instead of using small, narrow steps, Bruce Wortman of Wortman Welding in Bloomfield designed a rising platform and a door that opens in the opposite direction to help Padget in and out of the combine.

“We harvested with it this fall, and it was wonderful,” Padget said. “The platform is out of the way once you’re up there, and there’s nothing in the road to get in the way. It’s exactly what I needed.”

Padget was recently given the Farmer of the Year Award by Easter Seals Iowa. This allows him to be an ambassador for farmers in a similar situation.

“I’m glad to be ambassador for southeast Iowa. I told (Larson), ‘You helped me, I’ll help you.’ I’ll be able to meet with other ag people tell them what they need to do to get help for themselves.”

Padget and Larson both say that sharing information about the resources and solutions available to farmers in need is critical for the agricultural industry.

“It’s imperative that the citizens of Iowa know that there are resources available for them,” Larson said. “There are many people in rural areas that think they’re isolated when they’re hurt, but there are programs and consultants available to work with them to find the solutions.”

Padget says he couldn’t have imagined everything he has gone through over the past 18 months, but the time has changed his life in every way.

“When anybody loses a limb, it’s going to change you. You have to heal your mind up to tell yourself you don’t have that leg anymore,” he said. “You’ve got to tell yourself that’s it. It’s 95 percent mental. You have to make your mind up and decide that this is my goal, this is what I’m going to do.”

To find out more on Easter Seals Iowa and solutions available to injured farmers across the state, call Renee Bell at 515-309-1783.