Spring Hill farmer recovers from injury

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 3/28/01.

Ken and Shirley Lieser "Time," says Shirley Lieser from the kitchen table at their Spring Hill farm. "That's the magic word."

Lives can be changed, can be drastically altered, can be turned upside down in a matter of seconds. Just ask Shirley, who has nursed her husband back to health after a near-fatal accident last September.

Time mostly lingers now. Healing comes slow and can't be rushed. Just ask Kenny, who has no recollection of the accident that changed his life.

The couple have lived for 25 years on the 240-acre farm where Kenny grew up, raising crops and tending a 50-cow milking herd. The farm lies between Spring Hill and Lake Henry, three miles south of the former and three miles northwest of the latter.

The accident occurred a few miles north of their farm, near Spring Hill, in an alfalfa field that will be planted with crops this spring. With the alfalfa no longer needed, a group of men got together to race snowmobiles on the stalks.

Starting around noon in the 80-degree heat, they had spent the afternoon racing on the grass, battering the stalks, and were just about to quit when they decided to have one last race. And it happened.

Split-second accident
Maybe if Minnesota would have had a decent winter in recent years, with a little more snow and fewer days of mild temperatures, the guys wouldn't have been so eager to race. Maybe if September 17 hadn't been such a perfect Indian summer day, they all would have worn helmets.

"Everybody had them in their trucks, but nobody wore them," Shirley explained. "It probably would have made a difference."

It's easy to say now that they shouldn't have pulled the sleds off the trailer for one last race, but it must have seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time.

One moment Shirley was watching Kenny race across the field, which had long turned to mud. The next moment, he had lost control of his sled somehow, "flew off it and rolled and rolled," she explains. "Pieces went flying."

Shirley probably will never get the image out of her memory: sprinting across the field, seeing her husband covered in blood, and waiting for the ambulance. "A second made a lot of change in your life," Shirley tells her husband. "That's what accidents are."

Maybe Kenny will remember the accident someday. As part of his continuing rehabilitation, they are working on improving his strength and his memory. Right now, he still has no recollection.

"Didn't happen to me," he says, partly in jest. "I wasn't there."

Lengthy recovery
He was there. Then he was in the emergency room in St. Cloud. He had hit the right side of his head, and a blood clot had formed. In surgery by seven o'clock, the doctors performed surgery to relieve the pressure of the hematoma.

When his head hit, only part of the damage was done on the right side. Also hurt was the left side of his brain, which was slammed into his skull. Doctors also had to drill to relieve the pressure caused by the swelling on this side.

Kenny was x-rayed from top to toe, Shirley says in amazement, and not a bone did he break. But he hurt his head, which was more than enough.

For seven days, the doctors purposely kept Kenny in a coma, keeping him absolutely still to allow his brain to heal. The first ten days were touch and go, and then the doctors let him come out of the comaÉ slowly. "I kept thinking one morning he'd be awake and talking, but it never happened," said Shirley. "In his case, he slowly came out of it."

In all, he spent 15 days in intensive care, 35 consecutive days in bed, and 67 days in the hospital. It wasn't until the last few weeks that he started recognizing people. "They tell me I was in there two or three months. I can't remember it," Kenny says with a smile. "It must have been someone else."

The circular scar on the right side of Kenny's head is barely noticeable now, but some of the effects of his accident still are.

He damaged the optic nerve in his right eye. While he can see with it, his vision is blurry, especially after extended periods. So Kenny wears a patch over the eye and uses just his good one.

Ken Lieser doing exercise They are waiting for the eye to heal as much as it can. In a couple months, they will visit an eye specialist at the University of Minnesota, who could recommend surgery.

Kenny also struggles with his memory, though it is improving. He still attends speech therapy in town, and part of this is aimed at his memory, they say. But memory can be challenged, and improved, while sitting in the house or on drives around the neighborhood.

Kenny does exercises for at least an hour a day to restore the strength to the right side of his body, which sat immobile and withered as the left side of his brain recovered in the hospital.

Resuming life
Kenny, who will turn 52 in June, spent 35 days in bed in the hospital before getting on his feet again. When he first got home, walking to the living room with his walker left him in need of rest.

Throughout the winter, Shirley and Ken's lives were dominated by the demands of his rehab schedule and by his body's need to rest and recuperate. "We've learned to slow down through all of this," said Shirley.

They went to physical therapy three days a week, enjoyed the visits of family, friends, and neighbors that helped keep time moving, and looked out their windows at the piles and piles of snow. "That was the hardest part," said Shirley. "To look at all the snow, and the trail's right there, and we couldn't go. But there's next year we hope."

He lost 30 pounds after the accident, but has gained that back as his appetite has returned. He now takes seconds and thirds again.

He has progressed to using a cane around the house, and he went out to the barn for the first time last week.

Chores have taken on a greater degree of difficulty for Kenny now. "That's work," he said. "It takes 15 seconds to talk about; it takes 20 minutes to do."

They sold their dairy cows in February, because they would be too labor intensive to milk, but plan to keep 150 beef cattle. "He's going out now," said Shirley. "He'll be able to do that."

They've counted on their four kids, especially eldest son Chris, to keep the farm running so far, but hope that Kenny's progress will continue and that he'll be able to resume regular farming. Last fall, Chris moonlighted to do most of the harvesting, and neighbors spent a day, using 14 tractors, to plow the Liesers' fields.

Kenny wants to "get back where I was before I got laid up" and wants to be able to keep up with his friends. The former Lake Henry baseball player and Spring Hill manager did, after all, play in an old timer's game last summer.

Now he's taking a day at a time and hoping that time can really heal all wounds.

Return to Archives