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The Harvest

Ryan Anderson lay on his back in a muddy corn field, trying to figure out what just happened.

He’d stepped off the combine to grab an armful of cornstalks and toss them in the corn header. Such a small amount he didn’t bother turning off the machinery. Something grabbed his pant leg and violently sucked him in…and just as quickly let him go.

Now he lay there, listening to the combine -- the motor, the chains, the rotating knives.

He lifted his head and looked down. The lower half of his right leg was gone.

“I went hysterical,” recalls the 23-year-old from Fargo. “Screaming. Flailing my arms. Writhing in pain. But I never blacked out.”

Tractor driver Aaron Johnson realized something had happened. He shut down the combine.

“When he came back and saw me, he looked like he’d seen a ghost,” recalls Ryan. Aaron and Ryan’s cousin Tyler Anderson activated emergency services.

Too close

The injury happened at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 6. Ryan was helping out at the family farm near Walcott, N.D.

By 5:30 Sanford LifeFlight had transported him directly from the field to Sanford Emergency Center, where his family waited. They were in Fargo for a wedding.

“Seeing my family was tough,” says Ryan. “I realized how close I came to losing my life -- scary close. Staring at that auger was like staring at death.”

Surgery to amputate his mangled knee set the stage for healing. Then came the daunting work of learning to walk again.

“I had incredible support from family and friends. They gave me hope,” says Ryan. “More than anything I dreamed of getting back to normal -- back to my life.”

The path to recovery

From the start, Ryan made tremendous progress:

    * The second day he was up on crutches
    * The fifth day he went home to Walcott, eventually returning to his own apartment
    * Within two weeks he returned to work part-time at Agassiz Valley Grain

Ryan worked closely with his Sanford medical team including physical medicine, physical therapy, pain management and prosthetic support.

“The first month I discovered I hate crutches,” he says. “That motivated me.”

Sanford physical therapist Scott Nice entered the rehab picture in January. “He’d had an amputation years ago and understood what I was going through,” says Ryan. “He really helped me out.”

Expert direction, combined with Ryan’s hard work reaped rewards. Ryan learned to use a traditional mechanical leg. In April he transitioned to a high-tech computer-generated leg.

“With the old-style leg, you had to lock the knee joint or you’d fall. I didn’t have much confidence walking with that,” says Ryan. “The ‘c-leg’ is so much better. It’s amazing how naturally it moves.”

So naturally, in fact, that Ryan participated in the 2011 Fargo Marathon. He and a big group of family and friends walked the 5K. Their T-shirts said “Rockin’ with Ryan.”

Healing steps

Today Ryan’s back full-time at Agassiz. He works in grain merchandising -- a career that fits well with his degree in ag business from North Dakota State University.

He smiles easily, but shadows linger. “There’s a lot of emotions about what happened,” says Ryan. “I’m working through it day-by-day.”

Ryan’s determined to bring good out of his loss. In June he’ll talk with school kids at a farm-safety event.

“I want to explain to them what happened and let them know what life is like when you’re disabled,” he says. “My message is you always have to be mindful, even when you’re in a rush to finish the harvest.”

Ryan quietly exemplifies one more important lesson: Determination can’t alter history, but it can become the road to success.

Posted Date: June 2011