Butler injured in farm accident, recovering at hospital

By: 
Roxie Murphy
Staff Writer

BELLE — Frank Butler is recovering at University of Missouri Columbia after an accident at the family’s farm Aug. 25 that left him pinned beneath the John Deer loader he was operating.

Since the accident, Butler has received at least one surgery to repair multiple bone breaks. He is scheduled for a second surgery Thursday and then a knee repair at a later date. Doctors are also speculating that a skin graft may be necessary.

Butler’s wife, Cindy Butler, said it was 11:47 a.m. when she received a call from him last Sunday.

“I received the call everyone dreads, which was 13 seconds long,” Cindy Butler said. “He said “I need help. I flipped the high lift and I’m pretty sure I broke my leg.”

Butler had been clearing a pond bank of trees and working on a slight slope when the tracks of the tractor entered a dip that a tree had left, which caused the machine to flip on its side, pinning Butler’s leg beneath it.

“I had a short period of time to think about what was the best way to ride the accident out,” Butler recalled. “If I had tried to climb out on the top side as it was rolling, the tracks were sure to catch me since the engine was still going with the machine still in gear.”

He said he decided that he would attempt to stay in the machine and possibly exit unharmed.

“That’s when the canopy of the high lift slid down my left leg and pinned my foot under the machine,” Butler said. “I knew instantly that the leg was broken and that I had to get help. I dug my phone out and called Cindy. She called Ethan, our son.”

Ethan Butler was the first to arrive, followed by Cindy Butler and her sister Frankie Hicks, at 11:54 a.m., and found Butler pinned under the machinery. 

“His foot was sticking out from under the canopy of the high lift and there was an open fracture to his lower leg,” she said. “At 12:23, Phelps Air was landing in the field near the accident. I’m not sure what time EMS and fire arrived or exactly when he was extricated, but it had to be close to the same time of the landing.”

From there, the responses continued with multiple family, friends, neighbors, Ozark Central Ambulance, Belle Fire and Phelps Air. It took several pieces of farmer ingenuity combined with EMS and fire to lift the heavy machinery and free Butler’s mangled leg.

At the hospital, injuries turned out worse than Butler expected. An open fracture of the tibia of the left leg, the fibula broken in three pieces with multiple bone fragments plus numerous torn ligaments in both the knee and ankle on the same leg were just a few of his injuries. There were more concerns.

“Dr. Skelley, the Orthopedic Surgeon at UMC, told us that this is the highest of all injuries in fractures,” Cindy Butler said. “Time sensitive repair is important to save the leg from needing amputation. Thanks to modern technology and techniques — a decade ago this would have been an amputation and not a bone nail through the tibia with four screws.”

In addition to the bone injury, Butler has suffered a Morel-Lavallee lesion which is described as “de-gloving.” The injury happens when shear force disconnects the skin and fascia from the muscle which leads to bleeding and leakage of fluid into the space between the skin and muscle. It can also lead to compartment syndrome, a loss of blood flow to muscle tissue due to swelling in the affected area and an increased risk of infection. They have only achieved one major surgery so far.

“The highest risk of infection is associated with farm injuries so there was careful evaluation and cleaning of the open wound where the bone had busted through the skin,” Cindy Butler said.

The trauma team of physicians have not been able to define the next steps associated with repairing the knee and ankle.

While the Butler family is counting their blessings, they are also taking the opportunity to warn others about the dangers of farming. Cindy Butler said she didn’t know that her husband was planning to be on the farm removing trees. Butler focused on the safety of the equipment.

“If I had been wearing my safety belt, I may have walked away unharmed,” he said. “I’ve had countless incidents while pushing trees and always thought if I was ever injured, it would be from a tree limb, not rolling it over on myself.”

To other farmers, Butler said, “Never take for granted that it can’t happen to you. There are incidents where belts could be your enemy, such as flipping into a pond in which you can’t unbuckle, and then there are situations such as this.”

Butler said for farmers who can afford it, he recommends purchasing caged equipment and wearing the safety harness.

Doctors are unsure when Butler will be released. Right now they are focused on pain management, monitoring and preventing infection. However, they do expect his recovery to be at least a year.

“The response to offer assistance with the farm has been overwhelming,” Cindy Butler said. “Our children are keeping operations of the cattle farm running with the help of some amazing neighbors, friends and family.”

Butler said what they would appreciate right now is prayers — prayers for a quick recovery.

“We live in a small community that always pulls together to take care of each other,” Butler said. “Just weeks ago, I was thinking about the situation Randy Hicks was in and how much that would stink...now I find myself in a similar position. I appreciate all the thoughts, prayers and calls.”

The family is unsure when Butler will be released from the hospital; it depends on the Aug. 5 surgery and what doctors decide will come next. Butler is still focused on pain control, but is better than he was at the beginning of the week, according to his wife.

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