By Kenzie Sarbacker, AgrAbility of Wisconsin Intern
Note: the following article was originally published in AgrAbility of Wisconsin’s Plowing Ahead Summer 2015 Newsletter
All Ethan Meyer wanted to do was drive tractors. After a serious accident in 2011, that desire was put into jeopardy. Ethan Meyer is a part-time employee at Schottler Farm in Somerset, Wis., where he helps with field work, mainly running the desk and spreading fertilizer. Getting in and out of the tractors and fixing the machinery had never been a problem for Meyer, until April of 2011 when he had his accident. He hit a deer with his motorcycle. This left Meyer with a C5 spinal cord injury, paralyzed from the chest down. Meyer never wanted to go to college and just wanted to continue driving tractor, so with the help of AgrAbility of Wisconsin and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Meyer still does what he loves most.
Jeff Kratochwill, Easter Seals Rural Rehabilitation Specialist, worked with Meyer and the Schottler Farm to determine what changes needed to be made to keep Ethan driving tractors. Kratochwill noted, “After his accident, Ethan was unable to work and appeared to struggle a great deal with his feelings of self-worth. In meeting with him, it was clear that he had a strong desire to work on the farm and be productive again, and his employer was fantastic about wanting to help him. I proposed some accommodations to include items such as a power lift, remote cameras, and seat and steering wheel modifications, which were ultimately implemented.”
The Easter Seals FARM team did a test lift first to see if, once Meyer was in the tractor, he could still drive it. A chair lift was then added to the outside of two different tractors on the farm so that Ethan can get in and out easily. Each tractor was modified with a tri-pin to the steering wheel, levers for the clutch and brake pedals, a chest seat belt, and cameras. “Ethan contacted me shortly after they were installed and said how well things are working and how much work he has completed. I am happy for him and it has truly been amazing the difference it has made on his attitude as well,” Kratochwill stated.
“The chest support is really helpful to keep me from falling out of the seat, especially when going down hills,” said Meyer. With the new adjustments to the tractors, Meyer is capable of going eight hours in the cab with little to no help. Meyer’s boss, John, said, “He’s always been positive. He doesn’t sit back and say, ‘God, why did you do this to me?’” Meyer has a great relationship with other Milk Buds Farms employees. They are always willing to help Meyer out when he breaks down or has trouble with any of the machinery.
Meyer claims his greatest challenge is re-learning how to do everything. “You have to just figure out what you can do and do it. I mean, I couldn’t do back-flips before the accident, and I can’t do them now.”
Meyer also recently got his driver’s license back and has adapted a van so he can drive. “This is hopefully going to open new doors for me and allow me to go get parts for machinery. Nobody usually likes to do that, and now I can go by myself.”
Along with modifications to the tractors and the van, Meyer also uses a reacher with a claw at the end. This tool helps Meyer with daily living tasks, such as picking things up off the ground or reaching for things in high places. Meyer has really benefited from having this reacher.
Meyer is also thankful for his beloved service dog, Stetson, and for everyone who has helped him along the way. “Without so many wonderful people, there would’ve been too many hurdles to overcome.”