- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

MERCER, N.D. (AP) - Emma Fischer is only 4 years old and she has an important job at home: She’s her dad’s leg.

Morgen Fischer, 8, has an important role, too, when she’s not at school: She’s her dad’s arm.

This spirit of helpfulness is how Matt Fischer’s daughters are coping with the farm accident that cost their dad his left arm below his elbow and his left leg below mid-thigh.

The girls fetch and do small favors during this time while Matt Fischer sorts out just how exactly to make a prosthetic arm and leg work for him.

One of those would be challenge; two, well, it’s beyond what most could imagine.

Farm accidents are like that.

One late afternoon in mid-November, Matt Fischer, 36, was just a guy, contentedly puttering around in the shop, oiling the chains on the haystack mover in preparation for storing it over the winter.

The chains were moving and so was a coupler, joined with bolts that protruded about an inch-and-a-half from the coupler piece.

Suddenly, one of the bolts caught the front of his heavy coat, twisting his body. In an instant, his leg was thrown up into the toothy chains and his arm was wrapped around the shaft.

He recalls this in his mind’s eye while his gaze rests on Emma murmuring and playing dolls and toys in the living room of the family’s new house on the farm three miles south of Mercer.

“It was getting tighter, tighter, tighter and I thought, ‘Boy, this would be it. It can’t be it.’ There was all kinds of pressure,” he told The Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/1epXhUF).

Just that fast, he dropped out of the equipment to the floor of the shop. “I got loose when my arm ripped off,” he said.

“I laid there and assessed the situation, thinking, ‘What have I got left?’” he said.

He knew his arm was gone and his leg was in horrible condition.

He crawled to the pickup, thankful the bleeding was not heavy, and managed to drive himself to the farmhouse where his mother, Rose Fischer, lives.

Rose Fischer called 911, and her next call was to Matt Fischer’s nearby house, where his wife, Becky Fischer, instantly recognized the terror in her mother-in-law’s voice.

Becky Fischer said the next few moments were like one of those bad dreams where she was trying to run but she couldn’t move, caught in the impossibility of propelling her body at the same speed as her mind.

She pulled sleepy girls from their beds, still in their party dresses from Morgen’s birthday, phoned for her parents that there had been an accident and drove the three-quarter mile to the other house.

Finally, she was at her husband’s side. He was lying in the entryway to the farmhouse.

“He said, ‘Go get my arm, go get my arm,’” Becky Fischer said.

She tried to do his bidding, but the recovery of the limb - to no avail, as it turned out - became the task of the emergency responders from the Turtle Lake-Mercer area who arrived as quickly they could.

The ambulance was met by a Life Flight helicopter while the ambulance crew set up a roadblock so the pilot could land on N.D. Highway 41 south of the Fischer farm.

Within hours, he was in surgery to deal with the arm amputation.

Two days later, his doctors returned to talk to him about his leg: It should be removed, they said, and he faced the reality of saying goodbye to a second limb, this time in full awareness.

“I really didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. I could see with my own eyes what there was. It was basically gone already,” he said.

Today, a little more than two months later, Matt Fischer is doing his best to look forward, not back.

He’s adapting to a prosthetic arm, which because he can’t flex it fully from the elbow, seems awkward and clunky.

Besides farming, he works in mechanical design for Prairie Engineering in Bismarck, designing and managing construction of heating-cooling and plumbing systems.

So he thinks like an engineer and suggested the arm would work better for him if it were a couple of inches shorter.

He’s also pretty fascinated by the bionic knee he may have, if his insurance qualifies him for this state-of-the-art prosthetic technology.

“The knee can think, anticipate and help with balance. It’s all powered with cellphone batteries,” he said.

Just recently, he stood on a prosthetic for the first time, experiencing pain but also the sensation of his body weight once again being supported on both sides.

He hopes in another month or so that his new leg will have been fitted and he will have been through an in-patient week of practice and therapy. Then he will see about getting back to business.

He knows he won’t be the guy he was, but he’s determined to be all the guy he can be.

“I want to be able to do everything I did before, maybe not as efficiently, but I think I can do it,” he said.

He believes his life is a full measure, still, and depression and self-sorry isn’t part of his daily language.

“I have so much to live for. That’s what kept me going, really. There’s nothing better than seeing the kids, and we have this beautiful house, and I wanted to live here and enjoy it,” he said.

There has been no remedy or pain reliever stronger than the steady doses of love and support from their families and the larger family of their community.

Becky Fischer said their daughter, Morgen, summed it up perfectly at a recent benefit for the family held in Mercer, attended by hundreds including the Life Flight crew, who landed in whup-whup-whup fanfare in the town ball field next to the hall.

“She said, ‘Look at all these people, all of them are here for my daddy,’” Becky Fischer said.

She’s thankful they made the decision to move to the farm and back home from Bismarck last year. Though they both have off-farm jobs in Bismarck, home is what matters now, she said.

She said her husband is strong and she intends to do whatever he needs, including, incredibly, pulling over so he could get behind the wheel and drive himself home from the hospital three weeks after the accident.

“Nothing will stop him,” Becky Fischer said.

A longtime friend, Byron Fielder, said Matt Fischer’s attitude is extraordinary.

“It’s aided him immensely; it’s quite spectacular, really,” he said.

He retells the story going around Mercer following the benefit, when someone asked Matt Fischer how much that “Matt Fischer Strong,” T-shirt he was wearing cost.

“He said, ‘Don’t know about you, but it cost me an arm and a leg,’” Fiedler said. “That, well, it helps everybody in the healing process.”

Fiedler called on his friend recently to talk to a regional meeting of FFA high school students about farm safety.

Fiedler said he didn’t have any trouble finding a roster of local farmers who have personally experienced a farm accident, or have a family member who has been in one. There was one who lost a finger, another who suffered a head injury in one accident, bodily injury in another, and one whose daughter died in freak ATV accident.

Fiedler himself told the kids stories of farm fatalities in the past few decades, with balers and power takeoff motors, some he had seen firsthand as an emergency responder.

“There’s been plenty that has happened around here. I wish my heart could forget what my eyes have seen,” Fiedler said.

He said he was proud of his friend, Matt Fischer, for talking honestly with the students about something so recently tragic.

For his part, Matt Fischer said he wanted the kids to know that “hurry up” is the wrong speed around farm equipment.

“That day I was not in a hurry and things can happen when you’re not in a hurry,” he said. “I always tried to be safe.”

Speaking of safety, he said he never did like the design of that coupler with those bolts that were forever catching the string on hay bales.

“It’s ridiculous how it was made,” he said.

It would be safe to bet that just as soon as Matt Fischer gets both legs back under him and figures out to manage the tools - those bolts? They’re history.

___

Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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