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By Staff | Sep 23, 2016

An unfamiliar number lit up my phone. The young lady on the other end identified herself as Jessica and asked if she could speak to me about my farm accident.

I said, “Of course.” Jessica then related her story.

Some weeks ago, her uncle Lonnie descended into a manure pit on their Orient, South Dakota dairy farm to perform routine repairs. Things were going as planned until it suddenly dawned on Lonnie that he was soaked with manure and was sprawled on the ground beside the manure pit.

Lonnie peered into the pit and saw his brother Rick – Jessica’s father – lying unconscious in the manure. Lonnie realized that he must have been knocked out by toxic manure pit gasses while doing the repairs. Rick clambered into the fetid abyss to save Lonnie.

After somehow managing to muscle Lonnie out of the pit, Rick was overcome by the fumes and tumbled back in.

Lonnie crawled up into a tractor cab and used its CB radio to summon help. Family members rushed to the scene and, despite the obvious danger, climbed down into the manure pit to give Rick what aid they could.

An ambulance crew soon arrived and extracted Rick from the pit. The EMTs told Lonnie that he had to go to the hospital.

Lonnie at first refused, saying that he was OK and that they needed to focus their efforts on Rick.

The EMTs convinced Lonnie to ride with them to the hospital in the cab of the ambulance.

As the ambulance neared a local hospital, Lonnie began to vomit and to cough uncontrollably. He was rushed into the ER, but died a short time later. Lonnie Martinmaas was 58 years old.

Rick was flown to a large hospital in Sioux Falls and has remained in a coma since the accident. Jessica and her family were wondering, given my history, if I could lend them some insights as they grapple with this heart-rendering situation.

I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. But I do have a bit of firsthand experience regarding manure pit gasses.

In July 1988, I crawled down into a manure pit on our family’s dairy farm to perform some routine repairs on a pump.

Within moments of entering the pit I started to feel woozy and immediately began to scramble back out. I didn’t make it.

Lurking at the bottom of the manure pit was an invisible killer called hydrogen sulfide. The noxious gas swiftly rendered me unconscious and caused chemical burns in my lungs.

My father found me floating in the manure. First Responders were summoned and my apparently lifeless body was hauled out of the pit.

I was rushed to a local hospital before being flown to a larger hospital in Sioux Falls.

Dozens of dedicated medical professionals – ICU nurses, pulmonologists, infectious disease specialists, surgeons, neurologists – worked around the clock in an effort to save me.

My wife never left my side during the entire ordeal. She nursed me through the fevers and the deliriums and did everything in her power to ensure that I received the best care possible. As I languished in the hospital, friends and neighbors came to our farm and helped my family with field work.

I will never be able thank my family and our community and my medical team enough.

Nearly six weeks after my accident I was able to walk out of the hospital. The only lingering effect that followed me home was a marked reduction of my peripheral vision. It was as if I were looking at the world through a drinking straw.

My doctors told me that a tiny portion of the vision center of my brain had been lost. At some point during my accident I became so anoxic that the process of brain death had begun.

To this day, nobody knows how it was that so many things went right for me. No one can say why I survived when others who have been in similar situations were less fortunate.

I explained all of this and more to Jessica. I reiterated that I’m not a doctor nor any kind of an expert.

I had no answers, no proven formulas that were gleaned from that gruesome experience. All I know for certain is that my survival was nothing less than a miracle.

A few days ago, an unfamiliar number lit up my phone. The young lady on the other end identified herself as Kylee and asked if I would speak about my farm accident for the TV show “On Call with a Prairie Doc.”

I said, “Of course.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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