Originally created 04/10/00

Farmer overcomes accident



ACKLEY, Iowa -- Winter or summer, before he heads out for chores, Darwin Hofmeister pulls a heavy wool sock up over much of his left arm. The colder it is, the more socks he puts on.

The sock is as much a part of his farm wardrobe as his boots, his green Pioneer jacket and his seed corn cap. Hofmeister stops in a shed to fill a pail with feed, laying the bucket on its side and then kicking the bottom of it while lifting it up at the same time.

He puts the handle of the pail in the crook of his left elbow, a few inches above a patch of scar tissue, closes the shed door and heads for his hogs.

"They told me I'd have to watch my arm, keep it wrapped and warm, because it would freeze and I wouldn't even know it," he explains.

That's how it came to be injured, too, on the night of Oct. 24, 1994 -- he didn't know it had happened until it was over.

The fan on his combine was jammed with grain. In the dark and without a flashlight, Hofmeister reached to clear it without thinking.

"You do it so often, it becomes a habit. You quit thinking about it, and that's when you usually make a mistake," he said.

Instead of touching the fan, Hofmeister's outstretched hand got caught in a drive belt. It crushed and mangled his arm right to the elbow before literally spitting him out, throwing him some 20 feet into some standing corn.

Doctors at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minn., tried to reconstruct the limb, but there was too much damage.

Hofmeister knows plenty farmers with similar stories, ticking off the names of several neighbors in a 10-mile radius who have lost limbs or suffered head injuries in farm accidents.

Tracy Keninger, who runs the Easter Seals' Farm Family Rehabilitation Management program, heard about Hofmeister's injury within two days. She contacted him in the hospital and got him involved in a peer support program.

"We were able to connect him with another farmer that lived nearby that had also lost his arm. This farmer, who had been rehabilitated, who was actively engaged in farming, really could serve as a role model," she said.

Hofmeister now does the same for other farmers who suffer severe injuries on the job.

"I was lucky. I got loose," he said. "This is nothing compared to other farmers' accidents."

Farming is among the most dangerous occupations in the United States. A farmer could get caught in a combine or other machinery, suffocated in a grain bin, or crushed by a tractor slipping or tipping over on a muddy hill.

According to the National Safety Council, 37 of every 100,000 farmers were killed on the job in 1992, compared to a general industry average of 7 of 100,000.

The Easter Seals' program, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, helped Hofmeister modify machinery and tools so he could keep operating his 400-acre farm.

The top of Hofmeister's two grain bins, for instance, have guard rails.

"I call them crows nests', but they're there so I won't fall," Hofmeister said.

Doing nearly 90 percent of the work himself, Hofmeister raises cows, hogs, corn, soybeans and oats.

"There are some things I can't do, like giving the pigs shots," he said. "But I blame myself, not God. I never got to that point. It was me being foolish."