Jim Campbell

ATV may have strayed from the path, but farmer’s recovery is right on track

Jim CampbellJim Campbell doesn’t remember the event that changed his life on Aug. 15, 2018. “It’s this mystery,” Jim said. “We know it happened, but we don’t know how it happened.”

Jim and his wife, Teola, were moving cows on their farm six miles north of Kearney. They separated to complete the chores, but Jim didn’t check in as expected. Teola, who is an LPN, found Jim unconscious with a broken scapula, six broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a hematoma.

Jim’s ATV was upright and running nearby. It may have run over him, Jim speculates, but neither he nor his wife know exactly what occurred. “I’m a better four-wheeler rider than what happened,” he said.

The spot where his wife found Jim was not where he was headed, he said, and he doesn’t remember driving down the hill or through the gate to get there. A brain tumor may be to blame for that memory loss. In addition to the injuries from the ATV accident, Jim has Stage 4 melanoma cancer, which started on his skin and spread to his lungs and brain.

“That’s what being a farmer will get you,” he said. Long hours in the sun took their toll on Jim, who has red hair and fair skin. He had a previous melanoma diagnosis 10 years ago and was diagnosed as Stage 4 in September 2017.

Farming can be a dangerous profession, but it’s what he has to do. “That’s where my passion is,” said Jim, who farms the same land where he grew up.

Bones broken but spirit intact

He may have left his heart on the farm, but after the accident, the rest of him was at CHI Health Good Samaritan in Kearney.

“I was in the hospital for six weeks,” said the soft-spoken but determined farmer, who quickly set his sights on recovery. “Quitting’s not in my vocabulary.”

His first goal was to make it to the rehab floor, which meant being able to walk with assistance and feed himself.

“It was quite a struggle making it up to the fourth floor,” he said. “Everything I had to do every day, I had to have someone with me.” But he learned to walk with a walker and then with a cane.

As his hospital stay wrapped up, Jim was asked where he wanted to continue his physical therapy. Kearney Physical Therapy, part of Central Nebraska Rehabilitation Services, is in a medical building attached to Good Samaritan.

“The hospital had been doing it. I said, ‘Why do I want to go somewhere else?’”

At Kearney Physical Therapy, Jim tackled new challenges, such as riding an air bike, shuffling his feet from side to side, stretching his leg out and climbing stairs.

“I had to learn to lift my leg all over again,” he said.

As part of occupational therapy, he put nuts and bolts together, worked with hand putty, lifted a 5-pound bar and opened clothespins.

“If you’ve been hurt, it’s a struggle to get that clothespin open,” he said.

He was also undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for his cancer. He would usually have chemo or radiation, skip a day and then have physical therapy twice a week.

Bond forged on road to recovery

Although it was difficult, the staff at Kearney Physical Therapy put him at ease and helped him through it.

“They make everybody feel comfortable,” Jim said. “We’d laugh and joke around. They’re all a really good bunch of people here. They work really hard,” he said. “These guys really put their heart into it.”

When Jim “graduated” from physical therapy a couple of months later, the staff was tearful to see how far he had come. Jim agreed that he formed a close bond with the folks at Kearney Physical Therapy and parting was emotional.

“It was tough to go,” he said, his voice choking.

Since graduating, Jim remains active at home. He can get around the house without his cane but still uses it when he goes out.

“I still get out and walk around, check the cows and feed them,” he said. “I do everything my wife will let me do.”

He’s forming a new cancer support group in Kearney, patterned after one he attended in Holdrege. Jim is still experiencing some trouble with one hip and some vertigo, which he’s working through with Kearney Physical Therapy.

“I’m not 100%,” Jim said, but he keeps working on it. “That’s their goal, to make you independent.”

Asked if he would recommend Kearney Physical Therapy to someone else, Jim said he had already recommended it to his brother-in-law, who needs a hip replacement.

“I said, ‘You want to come here. These guys are good!’”

Although Jim doesn’t remember the accident that started his physical therapy journey, he remembers all he’s accomplished in the months that followed. Perhaps the message on the T-shirt he received at his graduation from Kearney Physical Therapy says it best:

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”