Kyle Thompson knew he was in trouble the second the auger swiped his foot as it moved around the inside of the Harvestore silo last October.
The 34-year-old Wisconsin farmer was using a fencing breaker bar to run the last of the high-moisture corn out of the silo before putting new-crop corn in the structure when the floor auger caught the bar and pulled his foot in at the same time.
“I tried lifting on it to get my foot pulled out, but I couldn’t do anything,” Kyle recalls. “I was on the edge of the silo, and it started to suck me in.”
Calls for help
Fortunately, Kyle had his cellphone in his pocket and called his father, Ted, who was feeding calves nearby in the barn. He also called 911, because he knew he would need medical attention, and fast.
He said while he was on the phone, he felt his leg break at least three or four times.
“That’s the fastest I’ve seen my dad move in years,” Kyle says. “He shut off the auger and came to try to help me.”
In just 10 or 15 minutes, members of the Barneveld Area Rescue Squad were on the scene, including Kyle’s sister Krista.
“They got IVs going and a tourniquet around my thigh,” he says. The rescue squad also called Medflight, which was on the ground in a matter of minutes.
Kyle’s wife, Karlee, says the Medflight doctor gave Kyle medicine to calm him down while he was attending to him in the silo. Despite the quick action by the local EMT team, there was no saving the foot and lower leg.
“I was told there wasn’t much left of the foot,” Kyle says. “The Medflight doctor snipped it with a scissors and I was free.”
The first surgery at University Hospital in Madison, Wis., lasted nearly six hours, as physicians worked to clean the open wound on the stub and stabilize the patient.
The surgeon was determined to save the knee, which would give Kyle more maneuverability for the rest of his life with the addition of a prosthesis. It wasn’t until after the first two surgeries that doctors determined the knee could be saved.
Kyle was in the hospital for 16 days, during which time he had four surgeries and nine blood transfusions.
While he was in the hospital, the Barneveld community rallied around the young farmer. A GoFundMe account was created on Facebook, which attracted nearly 700 donors. A spaghetti supper was held for the family in January, and thousands of dollars were raised.
Kyle describes the community support as “extreme.”
“People showed up and wanted to help on the farm any way they could,” he says. “The combining was done in one day with two combines and two grain carts going.”
“People provided everything from meals to gas cards,” Karlee says. “We had people calling us in the hospital who we didn’t even know, asking if there was anything they could do to help.”
Back to work
Although Kyle admits the accident has “slowed me up a bit,” he is back to doing virtually everything he did before the accident, including climbing into the silo to unplug the feeding chute.
“That’s the hardest part, the climbing,” he says. “You have to watch your foot — you could feel where you were stepping before.”
Using the clutch on his tractors is also more difficult, as is walking on uneven ground, he says.
The Thompsons milk about 70 cows with the help of one Lely robotic milker. Kyle says the robot has been a godsend — even before the accident, but especially since.
“We are three years in with the robot, and things have been going good,” he says. “We did the retrofit onto the main barn, and it worked out fantastic. It’s just Karlee and me and my parents [Ted and Marcia Thompson], but we get by fine.”
The Thompson family owns 360 acres and rents an additional 40.
Kyle and Karlee have four sons — Kyson, 5, Kooper, 4, Kian, 2, and Koleson, 5 months — who could become the sixth generation of Thompsons to operate the Barneveld-area farm. Kyle’s great-great-grandfather purchased the farm in 1902.
When asked what he would do differently if he could do it again, Kyle says he wouldn’t go into the silo alone.
“Two people, for sure, one by the on-off switch in case something happens,” he says. “And don’t be in such a hurry. If I would have had a second person to shut off the auger, I wouldn’t have gotten pulled in.”
Thompson says during his darkest days in the hospital, he wondered whether he would ever get back to doing what he loves to do — operating a dairy farm.
“It’s what I grew up with. I’ve always wanted to farm,” he says. “I have a love and passion for it.
“Some days when I was lying in the hospital bed with my foot gone, I wasn’t sure if I would get back to everything or not.”
Karlee says the doctor told Kyle he would be back to “99.9% of himself.” She says now he just has to put on his leg before he is off and running in the morning.
Kyle has already been asked to give a farm safety speech at an event in Mondovi, Wis., and he anticipates there will be other opportunities to tell his story in the future.
Massey lives in Barneveld, Wis.