Hecht glad to be alive after farm accident

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 9/24/97.

Harlin Hechts accident happened seven years ago, but it is as vivid in his memory as if it had occurred yesterday during Farm Safety Week, Sept. 21 to 27.

Im happy to be alive, since Im supposed to be dead by all rights, Hecht said. His blood pressure had dropped to zero by the time he reached the Paynesville Area Hospital, following his March 26, 1990 accident.

The accident happened on a cool March morning out in the barn. He had an overly protective cow with a new calf. The calf had developed a navel infection and Hecht had been treating it for three days. My system had been working. Id put a pan of feed in the alley-way and when the cow came to eat the feed, Id grab the calf and take it to the next room where I would treat it and then return it to its mother, Hecht said. However, on the third morning, at about 6 am., the cow didnt stop for the feed, instead it charged through the doorway before Hecht could get it completely closed.

To say the least the cow was upset, Hecht said. Since they were in a new barn, not all the gates had been installed. Hecht climbed on top of a water fountain and held a wheelbarrow in front of him. I had second thoughts about this and decided I had better get rid of the wheelbarrow and try to make it to the door, he added.

Hecht didnt make it to the door. He threw the wheelbarrow at the cow and started off running for the sliding door. The cow came charging after him and hit him in the back, pushing him three feet into the air and through the door. As a result of the push, the door slammed shut behind me, Hecht recalls. I laid there on the ground gasping for air. I decided I needed to get to the house if I was going to survive. Sue was still in bed and the boys were working in another barn, he added.

Hecht said it is amazing what you can do when you have to. He climbed the barnyard fence and headed to the house. He got Sue out of bed and told her he needed to go to the hospital. Before they reached the end of the driveway, he had passed out.

Dr. Lindeman pulled me through, Hecht said. He got me stabilized and put me in an ambulance headed to St. Cloud. I recall Janet Flanders was in the ambulance with me and Bev Stowell was driving. Doctors told Hecht his liver had exploded from the impact of the cows hit. He also had a couple of broken ribs and a punctured lung.

At the St. Cloud Hospital, they used 12 units of blood to keep me stabililized. A machine was used to recirculate the blood and clean it until the liver could heal. I learned the liver is the only organ which regenerates itself, he added.

Hecht was in the St. Cloud Hospital 10 days and then sent home to recouperate. After about a week and a half at home, he developed an infection which put him back in the hospital for another 25 days. My recuperation period lasted more than three months as I could hardly get off the couch or bed for a long time, Hecht said. During his recuperation, his wife, Sue, and children: Howard, Mark and Dale took over the farm chores.

Since the barn wasnt completed at the time of his accident, Hecht decided to complete the barn by installing a better gate system.

I had always realized cows were protective of newborn calves but learned never to turn your back on one, he added. At the birth of each calf, Hecht takes a birth weight, the calf is tatooed with an identification number for registration, the calf is vaccinated and the navels are treated to prevent infections.

Now at the birth of each calf, Hecht has a calf hook designed to snag the calf by its rear leg. The calf is then dragged away from its mother and pulled under the gate so he doesnt have to enter the pens. The hook extends to 20 feet.

Hecht says now he will always have a partner in the barn with him, even if just an observer. Im more cautious around the cows since my accident, he added. All it takes is for you to let your guard down once. In talking with other beef breeders, they are taking more precautions after hearing about my accident, Hecht said.

Hecht recommends farmers to plan ahead. When working with livestock, there is always a potential danger. Always have somebody in the barn with you at all times. That might not always be possible, but if you anticipate something happening, have someone there; when building a facility, think of the safest way to handle animals.

There are no guarantees an accident wont happen again, Hecht said. Sue is spending more time out in the barn with me since the boys are all in college, he added.

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