Farmer overcomes leg injury that has required 12 surgeries
SIDNEY – Kenny Thurman believed he would never farm again after his left leg was shattered on the second to last day of harvest one year ago.
But with the help of a surgically reconstructed leg and a specially built electric lift, Thurman was back at the controls of his red Case International 1660 combine on Monday, ready to harvest a load of corn.
"If you've got the will to do something you really want, you don't have to give up," said Thurman, who farms near Sidney.
Thurman, 59, said his family is no stranger to farm accidents. His grandfather was gored to death by an aggressive Holstein bull while bringing cows in to be milked.
And on Oct. 6, 2007, Thurman had just finished cutting beans and was cleaning debris off the platform of his combine when he lost his balance, his footing slipped and he fell off the side, catching his leg and foot on a shaft.
The next thing Thurman remembered was waking up at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana with a broken leg and a lot of pain.
"When I woke up, my leg was out at a 45-degree angle," he said. "My knee was completely destroyed, and then I got infection below the knee."
Thurman has received 12 different surgeries over the last 12 months, including one operation to fuse his leg together. The Sidney farmer can only walk on crutches, and his left leg is now 2 inches shorter than his right leg.
"Some friends told me I would never be able to run a combine or a tractor again, but I made my mind up I was going to do it," Thurman said. "Farming is all I know."
In an effort to achieve his goal of returning to the fields, Thurman met with Robert "Chip" Petrea, an Extension specialist in agricultural safety and health at the University of Illinois.
"After his injury, Kenny had contacted the Easter Seals office, and I contacted him," Petrea said. "We find out what the farmer wants to do first, and Kenny said he wanted to get back in a combine."
Petrea's organization, AgrAbility Unlimited, works to help farmers overcome disabilities so they can continue to enjoy their way of life.
Petrea told Thurman about the availability of a mechanical electric lift, much like an elevator, that might be able to carry him to the cab of a combine.
Petrea, who lost his legs in a hay baler in 1978, said approximately 5,000 Illinois farmers suffer a disabling injury – one that requires a half-day or more off work, from an ankle sprain to more serious injuries – every year.
Thurman's nephew, Kevin Thurman, and his friend, Steve Frerichs, spent four days putting a lift together at home using some of Petrea's plans and welding it to the combine. They even painted the device bright red to match the the Case International machinery.
On Monday, Thurman used his crutches to move to the side of the bright red combine and step aboard the lift. He pushed a button that activated the lift to carry his body up to the cab.
From there Thurman moved himself over to the seat of the combine. He could see row after row of mature corn stalks waiting for harvest.
The Sidney man grinned as he turned it on.
"It sure is nice to be back in the seat again," he said.