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Little Falls man who lost hand in farming accident recovering

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LITTLE FALLS — In a split second, Jamie Houdek’s life passed before his eyes.

The Little Falls man thought about his beautiful wife, Lisa, and their three precious daughters — Mikayla, 10, Breanna, 6, and Madison, 2 — hoping he would get to see them again and hold them in his arms.

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It was Nov. 13, 2013. It should have been a normal day for Houdek, but that was not the case. The day turned tragic and was one that changed his life forever.

Houdek, who is a diesel mechanic at Camp Ripley and has been in the Minnesota National Guard for almost 15 years, decided to take a day off to catch up on farm work and to get in a little deer hunting on the family’s 60-acre hobby farm, located a few miles west of Little Falls. That November morning, he went deer hunting for a few hours and then went back to the house to warm up and have a bite to eat. It was around 11 a.m. Houdek told his wife that he was going outside to pick corn on their field, where they raise a dozen beef cows.

Lisa Houdek asked him if he would be taking his cellphone and he said he wasn’t because he didn’t want to lose it. She said alright and told him to be safe.

Jamie Houdek then went out the door, hopped on his tractor with the corn picker machine he rented and went to work. He got about halfway around the field and then stopped.

Houdek’s description of the ordeal he went through in the farming accident is a harrowing one and may be too graphic for some readers.

“I was kind of in a hurry because I wanted to get a bunch done that day and so I jumped off and I left it running, which I shouldn’t have,” said Houdek, who got off the tractor to make sure everything was running properly. “I like to double check the moisture of the corn and stuff and what I do is grab a cob and bust it in half ... I knew better and I don’t know why I did it because a field of corn was around me but I went to grab a cob of corn out of the husking bin of the picker and as soon as I reached for it my right hand got caught in the rollers of the husking bed and began pulling my right hand in. When that happened, my natural instinct set in and I went to plant my left hand against the machine to give me leverage to pull so I’m pulling on my right hand because my fingers were already in and as I was pulling and focused on my right hand, all of a sudden I felt my left hand getting pulled in another direction and my left hand got caught on another roller and was being twisted and wrapped around the roller backwards.

“At that point both my arms were being pulled in so I took my head and planted it against the machine as a brace ... I was there for, I don’t know how long, couple of minutes or something and I knew I was getting tired and I knew I was losing ground and more and more I was getting pulled into the machine. I had to do something or I was going to die in this machine ... I was thinking about Lisa and my kids ... At that point I don’t remember any pain ...

“I took my right arm, what was left, and I gave it a hard jerk. I felt the bone snap and feed through the machine and then the skin and meat and tendons were still hooked up so I kept twisting my right arm back and fourth, rubbing it up and down on the shafts that were spinning and finally my arm separated from my hand and my hand fed through.”

Houdek still was not free as his left arm was still stuck on a different shaft on the machine. Houdek tried to hold his right arm close to his shoulder to stop the bleeding. Houdek finally was able to use his body weight to step on a lower shaft to stop the machine from continuing to pull his left arm in.

Houdek tried to stay awake so he wouldn’t go into shock. He prayed and thought of his family. He tried not to get frustrated about his situation, as he saw “a bunch of cars go by” but they didn’t see him. Houdek hoped motorists would see his blood that was splattered on the machine and that they would stop and help him.

He finally heard his tractor idle down and the engine was shut off. He knew someone had found him.

“I was like thank God someone finally stopped,” Houdek said.

His neighbor Kevin Molitor, who was on his tractor, spotted Houdek and thought that he was fixing it. Molitor discovered that Houdek was in trouble, helped him get his left arm out and they walked to the edge of the road for help. They then spotted another neighbor, Dennis Sobiech who went to the Houdeks’ house to call 911. The time of the call was 12:25 p.m., about 90 minutes past the time he had left the house.

Houdek was taken by ambulance to St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls and then flown to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. They were unable to save Houdek’s right hand because it had been severely crushed and was dirty.

Houdek said he remembered telling the medical staff, “I don’t care about either one of my hands, I just want to live. Just don’t let me die. I have a wife and three kids to take care of.

“They kept reassuring me that I was going to be OK.”

For the past three months, it has been a long road for Houdek and his family. He went through four surgeries and has made multiple trips to the doctor for physical therapy. Houdek had a prosthetic arm fitted for his right arm from the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. His left arm from his elbow down had eight breaks and two rods are supporting the bones. He had to have skin grafts done and still is recovering.

Houdek was able to come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas and finally was home for good on Feb. 3.

“It was really hard to say the least,” Houdek said of his accident and recovery. “I’m 32 and in the military and I can’t live a normal life. I couldn’t dress myself or go to the bathroom by myself. I couldn’t grab things. Only thing I could do is walk. ... It was pretty hard and depressing, but I am lucky to be alive. It’s getting better.”

Doctors tell Houdek that he should be able to gain back 75-90 percent of his left hand/arm abilities.

The Houdeks are taking it day-by-day. Daily tasks that previously didn’t require any thought, now must be accomplished in a new way with a prosthetic arm and a left hand that cannot hold anything with a grip. The family has learned tricks to make daily tasks easier, such as changing their door knobs from ones that were circular to ones with a handle.

Not only are the physical tasks difficult, but the mental state of mind also has been challenging. Houdek said his 6-year-old daughter asked him when the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus would be bringing his right hand back to him.

“She’s 6, so she has no filter,” said Lisa Houdek. “We tried to explain to her that once you lose a limb like that you don’t get it back.

“I would give millions of dollars for him to have his hand back.”

The couple said it’s still tough and emotional to go out in public as people stare at them differently because of the prosthetic arm. But they said life is getting easier.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER, staff writer, may be reached at jennifer.stockinger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5851. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl.

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