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Home > Topics > Safety
January 02, 2014

Minn. man recovering after losing hand in farm accident

Jamie Houdek has been fitted for a prosthetic and is thankful for a community that has rallied around him to help with ongoing medical costs

St. Cloud Times

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. — His right hand stuck in the husking bed of a corn picker, left arm mangled as it twisted through a rotating shaft, Jamie Houdek braced his head against the machine to stop his extremities from descending further into the large spinning pieces of farming equipment.

He didn’t know if he would survive.

More than six weeks later, Houdek is being fitted for a prosthetic Thursday and is thankful for a community that has rallied around him and is planning a large fundraiser in February to help with ongoing medical costs.

Alone in the cornfield Nov. 12, Houdek, a diesel mechanic, had hopped down from the cab to make sure everything was working properly. It was cleaning just fine, said Houdek, who is a National Guardsman.

He decided to grab an ear so he could peel the husk and check the moisture of the corn he was harvesting from his 60-acre hobby farm.

Why he didn’t grab it from a less-risky place, perhaps directly from a stalk, he doesn’t know.

But when he reached for an ear in the husking bed his hand got sucked in between two rollers. Trying to free his right hand, he braced himself with his left hand, but that got twisted into a rotating shaft.

“At that point both my arms were getting pulled into the machine,” Houdek said, recounting that November day this week.

Then he used his head, literally, to save his life by bracing himself against the machine. A steel-toed boot also came to his aid. He was eventually able to step on and wedge his boot into the rotating shaft.

“I felt a bone break and feed through the machine,” Houdek said of his right hand, stuck between rollers he says are less than an inch apart.

After his right hand separated from his wrist Houdek was able to free it.

He sprayed blood from his arm onto the side of the machine — hoping someone driving by would notice it and come to his aid — then tucked his arm in a coat pocket to slow the bleeding.

His neighbor, who’d been working nearby, had thought something seemed off and came to Houdek’s aid.

“He said, ‘Are you fixing it?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m stuck in it.’ ”

Then Houdek’s neighbor helped him free his left arm, wrapped around the rotating shaft one and a half times, he said. His neighbor tied a tourniquet around one arm at Houdek’s request— fashioned from the strings each man had in his jacket.

Houdek thinks he was stuck for almost an hour, though the exact timing is unclear.

An ambulance ride, helicopter ride, eight-hour initial surgery and now several surgeries and numerous doctor appointments later, Houdek is set to have his first fitting for a prosthetic Thursday.

Initially he will use a hook he can control with muscle movement in his shoulder. Hopefully, he said, he can graduate to an externally powered hand that will interpret signals from nerves in his forearm and other muscle movement to control a hand.

He and his wife live on the farm with three daughters, ages 2, 6 and 10.

The loss of independence has been challenging, Houdek said, but the amount of friends offering help and support has been humbling.

Co-workers at Camp Ripley where Houdek works on military equipment have donated vacation days to him. Houdek said the last count amounted to more than two months of paid leave. A website started by friends also collected more than $9,000 in donations.

“We don’t even know these people and they are willing to help,” Houdek said of the almost half of online donors who chose to remain anonymous.

He said those donations have helped lift the family’s spirits, adding he is incredibly humbled and awed by the community support.

Houdek hopes to remain in the military, though he says that will likely be determined by his rehabilitation and a review board in a few months.

Friend and co-worker Kris Ambuehl described Houdek as a fantastic guy and a hard worker. Ambuehl is one of several friends who have planned a benefit for Jamie and the Houdek family.

On Feb. 15, “Lend a Hand to Jamie Houdek” kicks off at 4 p.m. There will be food, raffles, both a live and silent auction, prize packages and activities for children as well.

Ambuehl said they are still accepting donations for auction items and prizes. Financial contributions can be sent to the Jamie Houdek Benefit Fund at U.S. Bank, 101 Broadway E, Little Falls, MN 56345.

Copyright 2013 St. Cloud Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

All Rights Reserved

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