On Feb. 29, 2008, Bryan Walz was feeding his horses using a grapple fork on the front end of Bryan_Walzhis tractor to pick up large bales. Something wasn’t right with the tractor, so Bryan dropped the bale and jumped down to take a closer look. There was a broken bracket. He kneeled under the fork trying to figure out his next step when, due to the broken bracket, the fork moved and impaled his body.

Only a few seconds later his wife came out of the house, and he told her to call 911. While waiting for the emergency team to arrive, his wife helped keep pressure off his back and body by holding up the grapple fork.

The first responder to the accident was a highway patrol officer, who took over holding the fork. The fire-and-rescue crew was next to arrive and focused on the best way to treat Bryan and remove the fork. Any movement of the equipment caused Bryan pain.

Shortly, Avera St. Luke’s CareFlight helicopter landed, and Dawn Birkla, the lead flight nurse, took over. An implement dealer in town was called, and he came out with a torch. The torch cut Bryan free from the equipment, while Dawn continued to stabilize the part that remained in Bryan’s back. Bryan could feel the heat from the torch travel down the metal and into his body and credits that heat for keeping him from losing too much blood. The entire time Bryan was fully awake and aware, trying to help the emergency crews figure out the best steps. He told his wife goodbye because he didn’t believe he would survive.

CareflightThe CareFlight helicopter team called ahead to have Avera St. Luke’s Trauma Team ready for intervention. Bryan was air-transported from his farm seven miles outside of Aberdeen, S.D., to Avera St. Luke’s in 1 minute and 37 seconds. On arrival, Bryan was taken directly to surgery, where Drs. Bryce Iwerks and Roger Werth were standing ready and worked for two hours to remove the fork and evaluate for internal injuries. Although the hole through his body was serious, the only other damage was four broken ribs. The fork had pushed through his body between the stomach and the spleen, separating them and not injuring any internal organs.

When Bryan awoke, he couldn’t believe he hadn’t had to leave Aberdeen for care. After a nine-day hospital stay, Bryan expressed gratitude for his physicians and care providers, the CareFlight nurse, first responders, the fire-and-rescue crews and everyone who just stopped in to say, “Hello.” He says he met all sorts of people from everywhere in the hospital because they came to check on him.

“I couldn’t ask for better care,” he adds.

Submitted by Patty Kirkpatrick, Avera St. Luke’s CareFlight