By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
T. J. Klopp says he is known around the family farm near Zurich as a bit rushy and “rammy”. However, on the day he was thrown from one side of the tractor to the other in a farm accident involving a power take off (PTO), he was slow and calm.
“It was a snowy day in November of last year and I was spreading manure and thinking about getting the corn off but I wasn’t in a rush,” remembers Klopp.
Which is why he noticed that the hydraulic lines from the tanker were rubbing on the PTO.
“Instead of stopping the shaft, I thought I would just move them out of the way and carry on because nothing will happen,” says Klopp, now understanding his folly. The safety shield that was supposed to be around the shaft was lying somewhere in the corner of the shed, taken off during a repair and never replaed. Klopp got out of the tractor and slowly grabbed the hydraulic lines. What happens next, he doesn’t know. Did the lines jerk? He remembers backing away, not realizing the lines were laying on the ground as well. As he stepped back, the lines wrapped around his leg and threw him over the PTO shaft to the other side of the tractor.
Then, somehow, he was released. His pants were torn but his skin was not ripped and his boots were still on. He thought he might have escaped uninjured. However, when Klopp went to stand up, he realized he could not.
Klopp called out to an employee who immediately drove Klopp to the hospital. Klopp called his wife and updated her, little realizing he was far more injured than he suspected.
“I just thought I had a broken leg and told her to keep going on with her day. It wasn’t a big deal,” remembers Klopp. However, when he got to the hospital, the doctor recognized the seriousness of the accident and rushed him to London hospital. There, he was monitored for Compartment Syndrome because his leg was swelling up dramatically.
One can imagine thematic music playing at this point and there might be, since Klopp’s story is being captured in a documentary by Bailey Regier and her film crew as part of her Bachelors of Film and Television project at Sheridan College in Oakville.
Regier and Klopp grew up in the same community and when deciding to choose a subject for the class project, Regier wanted to make one about farm safety.
“It is an issue close to my heart because my grandfather was in a farming accident and almost died,
says Regier, who is still in post-production. “Farming is one of the most dangerous professions in the world and I wanted to generate awareness.” (See next article for Regier’s story).
That’s also why Klopp agreed to be the subject of the documentary, though at the time of the accident, he was more worried about healing and all the work his “super woman” wife, Jocelyn, was doing to help manage the farm and take care of their two little ones, while she was pregnant with their third child.
Klopp ended up spending 11 days in London hospital. At first, it was a waiting game. Doctors monitored his leg for 24 hours, hoping the swelling would go down. Instead, his severely crushed leg kept getting larger. Since the skin had not been lacerated, the pressure was immense.
Klopp underwent the first of three surgeries to cut open both sides of his leg to relieve the pressure and “see what was going on.” There was already some muscle necrosis which had to be removed. The swelling prevented doctors from entirely closing the wound so a second surgery was required to monitor the muscles and close it up a bit more. A third surgery involved taking a skin graft from Klopp’s thigh in order to close the cuts.
“It looked like a raw piece of ham tied to the side of my leg,” remembers Klopp. “It was pretty bad.”
However, this was not his low point. A few weeks after he got home, the nurses opened his bandages to check on the skin graft. Klopp hadn’t seen it for a few weeks and when he did, he was horrified.
“It looked way grosser than it ever had before,” he says. “I was weak, needed help with everything, even going to the bathroom because I could not walk on my own. When I saw that, it was so disgusting, I thought they might have to cut my leg off.”
The nurses, however, explained that the skin graft was supposed to look like that and was actually attaching quite well. Still, Klopp remembers it as his low point. “In my head, that was NOT how it was supposed to look like.”
After that, he began to see improvements and now, almost one year later, he estimates he is 97 per cent better. “I can’t quite lift up on my foot and I need to get more strength in my tendons but I am able to do all my work now.”
The Klopp family farms 4,600 acres of land, has a 2,500 sow farrow-to-finish operation and also raises beef cows. There are 14 employees on the farm and for this, Klopp is thankful.
“We had the employees to get all the fall work done last year. If this was a one-man show, it would have been an entirely different situation,” says Klopp.
Things are different on the farm now. Klopp and his dad went around the farm, checking all the machinery, repairing equipment and replacing safety shields.
Reflecting on his farm accident, Klopp is hoping to shed his “rammy” reputation and be more cautious. “I definitely am more aware of my surroundings and take an extra second to shut something off and do what whatever I need to do to make the situation safer,” he says. “I have little kids now. After the accident I thought about what could have happened.”
Thinking of kids, he felt it was important to speak to school-aged children at a farm safety day in Clinton this summer.
“Hopefully, when they are 18 and working on the farm, they will remember back to when they were in school and some guy came in with a scarred leg because he did not shut the PTO off and got caught. I really hope I can turn this bad situation into helping someone else.” ◊