By Luann Dart
Cattle ranchers, in general, possess a certain amount of grit. Spring calving, after all, doesn’t stop for the sniffles. So, many farmers and ranchers weather their ailments through the seasons with a tenacious, tough-as-nails resolve to avoid doctors. Until one moment, one misstep, one split-second decision changes everything.
Luke Sprenger’s moment came on March 19 last year as he was chasing cattle that had escaped the fence. He was on an ATV and made a sharp turn. The turn didn’t end like hundreds of sharp turns before. This one spun him onto the ground, where he hit the back of his head. Undeterred, he simply got up and moved on. He didn’t even realize he had been unconscious in the snow for more than an hour.
He continued working. Until he couldn’t. Over time, the Elgin, N.D., rancher’s legs and arms were growing weaker, and the headaches were getting more intense. So, on May 13, he made an appointment with Dr. Alan Lindemann, a provider at Jacobson Memorial Hospital Care Center (JMHCC) in Elgin, who insisted Sprenger get immediate care. That insistence would save Sprenger’s life.
A computerized tomography (CT) scan revealed a double brain bleed. Sprenger went to Bismarck by ambulance and that night had an emergency double craniotomy, a surgical procedure in which a bone flap is temporarily removed from the skull. During the seven-hour surgery, doctors also drilled two holes into Sprenger’s skull to allow the blood to drain, then implanted titanium plates.
“They said if I hadn’t come in Friday, I wouldn’t have seen Monday,” Sprenger says. “It was pretty touch and go. They really didn’t expect me to come out of surgery.”
After being discharged, he returned to JMHCC just days later after experiencing more difficulties. This time, he was airlifted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Another CT scan had revealed that the bleeding had returned, and he was experiencing a full-body gout attack that had been triggered by the trauma.
After returning to the ranch from Rochester, Luke began mending under the watchful care of local providers. Sprenger’s follow-up care requires a periodic CT scan at JMHCC. He still has headaches, but has recovered fully otherwise, he says. He credits his wife, Betty, and his three children for their understanding during his recovery. He’s also grateful to the community members who helped him during his hospitalization and recovery.
“Don’t be superman,” Sprenger advises others. “Don’t be stubborn when something’s wrong.”
Sprenger is more cautious when riding his ATV now, paying more attention to the terrain, controlling his speed and not rushing through tasks.
Dart writes from Elgin, N.D., where she grew up on a grain and cattle ranch.