Benefit scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 15
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
It was Nov. 12, 2013, and Jamie Houdek, a diesel mechanic at Camp Ripley, took the day off work to do some stuff around home. Winter was coming and he needed to get the corn in.
Houdek headed out about 11 a.m. His wife, Lisa, asked him if he was carrying his cellphone.
“I told her ‘No,’ because I would probably just break or lose it,” he said. “She told me to be safe.”
Houdek drove halfway around the field, checking if all was working well with the corn picker.
“I was in a hurry, lots to do,” Houdek said. “It was a huge mistake, but I left the machines running and checked to see if any corn was left behind and if the cobs were clean.”
He thought he should check corn moisture, too. He went to grab a cob from the husking bed and in a split second, the rollers which dehusk the corn, grabbed his right glove.
“Before I could retract my hand, the rollers grabbed my fingers and pulled in my hand,” he said.
While his hand was being pulled farther into the machine, he planted his left hand against it for leverage and pulled on his right hand even harder. He then realized his coat and left arm were being pulled in by a rotating shaft.
“I put my head against the machine and tried to pull out both my hands,” he said. All he could think of was “I cannot die here.”
Houdek yelled and screamed, but to no avail. He knew he was losing ground and getting weaker.
“My left arm was wrapped around the shaft and I knew my bones were broken,” he said.
At some point, the pain had left Houdek, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. He was in shock, yet still able to think of what to do to get free. He credits the first aid training he received from the Army.
At this point, Houdek’s right hand was into the machine up to his wrist, between 2-foot rollers which were covered in blood.
Without a second thought, he gave his right arm a hard twist and felt his bone snap and his hand disconnect. But skin and other material still held him in place and he couldn’t get free. He twisted and turned his hand until it completely detached from his arm.
“My left arm was still in the machine,” he said. “I think I saw several cars go by and was hoping someone would stop. I then thought if they saw blood, they would stop. So I turned my body to allow blood from my arm to get on the machine.”
Houdek then pressed his arm into his coat to try and stop the bleeding. He was bent over, so anyone who drove by would think he was working on the machine.
“When I turned, I felt a rod by my feet. I cautiously stepped on it, afraid something else would grab me. The pressure slowed the shaft down. When I stood on it, the shaft stopped,” he said.
But, Houdek couldn’t get it to go backwards to release his left arm.
“My next thought was to just stay awake,” he said. “I would scream, then pray, then think of my family and friends. When I got tired, I put my head down, but then jerk it up and yell some more.”
Then all of a sudden, the tractor stopped. A neighbor, Kevin Molitor, was there and asked if Houdek was working on the tractor or stuck. Houdek told him he was stuck.
“Should I spin the shaft backwards?” Molitor asked. He disconnected the power takeoff shaft and spun it so Houdek could free his arm.
Like Houdek, Molitor did not have a cellphone. He flagged down another neighbor, Dennis Sobiech, who went to Houdek’s home to call 911.
That call was made at 12:25 p.m., one and a half hours after Houdek left his home. He had probably been fighting to free himself for an hour.
Waiting for the ambulance, Houdek talked Molitor through the process of putting a tourniquet on both of his arms, just below the elbow, using the string from their jackets.
While Molitor retrieved the severed hand, Houdek was going into deeper shock. Molitor gave him his coat and a pop that he had in his vehicle.
“I knew I needed electrolytes to help prevent further shock,” said Houdek. “I’m not sure I’d be here without my medical training.”
When the ambulance and sheriff’s deputy arrived and put Houdek on a stretcher, he told them not to forget his hand.
“What do you mean?” said the ambulance driver. He didn’t know it had been amputated.
From St. Gabriel’s Hospital, where Houdek met up with Lisa and told her he was sorry for the accident, he was transported to North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale via helicopter. There he was told the hand could not be saved.
To date, Houdek has had four surgeries. He had eight broken bones in his left arm below the elbow, along with severe nerve damage.
“The doctors told me that if my right hand had not been damaged, they would have taken the left arm,” said Houdek.
His left arm is now held together with rods and screws. During the accident, his wrist had snapped and his hand had shifted. One of the operations included a skin graft from his hip to his left arm where stitches had not been an option.
Today, the main focus of recovery is on the radial nerve in his left arm. Houdek is unable to straighten his wrist and fingers.
“While everyone says to give this time and see what happens, I’m not sure if I want to return to farming,” said Houdek. “I was young, healthy and tough. Then, all of a sudden, I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself. It’s hard. I was born and raised on a farm and should have known not to put my arm where I did. I should have known to turn off the machinery.”
Every day Houdek is learning to do more and more for himself. His prosthetic hand, paid for by the Veterans Administration, is a huge help, he said. He plans on returning to work in a couple of weeks on a part-time basis. He will be doing office work until he can get back to being a mechanic.
A benefit, “Lend a Hand to Jamie Houdek,” is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Falls Ballroom, beginning at 4 p.m. The event will offer a meal, cash bar, raffles, auctions, a bake sale and prize packages. The children will have a coloring contest, cookie decorating and more. There will be music and dancing, too.
Financial contributions may be sent to the Jamie Houdek Benefit Fund at the US Bank in Little Falls and donations for the auctions may be dropped off at Coborn’s Superstore in Little Falls.
For more information, contact Kris at (320) 360-0924 or Trisha at (320) 980-0840.
“The community support has been humbling,” said Houdek. “People have stepped forward to watch our three girls, take care of the farm, plow snow, donate gas gift cards and plan this benefit. It is nice to know that people still care and rally around those in need.”