Chuck Tellier hadn’t thought much about roll-over protective structures (ROPS) until a tractor accident nearly took his life. Now, he won’t drive a tractor lacking the safety devices.
Tellier farmed six acres of vegetables and hay on his Sodus, NY farm. On a March 1990 day, he used his John Deere 2010 for skidding long trees for firewood.
He swerved his John Deere to avoid running over his beloved dog, Timothy. “It happened that fast,” Tellier said. “I literally did not have time to think before the tractor turned over with me under it.”
He found himself crushed by tons of tractor, pinned to the gravel road from the neck down. Usually, the rural road experienced very little traffic; however, Providence was on his side that day, as the Sodus highway superintendent had followed him from just 50 feet. He summoned help right away.
It seemed that Timothy sensed that Tellier was badly hurt. In a misguided vigil, the protective dog wouldn’t let any first responders near to help Tellier until the farmer’s aunt and uncle arrived to call him off.
Meanwhile, Tellier had gone into shock from the pain and loss of blood. To this day, he doesn’t remember much about his rescue from the tractor. But he was told that at some point, he was discovered lying next to the wrecked tractor, free from its weight, before emergency workers even had the opportunity to move the 4,750-lb. piece of machinery.
“Someone was riding on my shoulders that day, an angel or the Lord,” Tellier said.
The emergency medical technicians in the ambulance thought he would die on the way to the hospital. Once at the emergency room, physicians told his mother that he would not last the night.
It’s easy to see why they would offer such a dismal outlook. Tellier’s entire chest was crushed flat, “like a table top,” he recalled, while his abdomen swelled with fluids to resemble a watermelon.
Remarkably, Tellier’s vital signs stabilized over the next three days; however, he needed surgery to repair the internal damage to multiple organs and reduce the risk of systemic infection. The small, nearby hospital lacked the specialists necessary to help him.
He had suffered a collapsed lung, lacerated liver, and crushed intestines, stomach, and kidneys, in addition to cuts, broken ribs and loss of the muscle on one side of his jaw.
“I kept getting worse and they didn’t know what to do,” Tellier said
The small hospital transferred him by ambulance to a larger hospital. Surgeons there performed exploratory surgery and repaired as much damage as they could; however, he lost a kidney and his jaw muscle.
Against all odds, Tellier returned home a mere 11 days after the accident. And 13 days after the accident, he mounted the John Deere again. Like a bucked off cowboy, he didn’t want to feel afraid to drive it again.
“The surgeon said the only thing that pulled me through is pure stubbornness and bullheadedness,” Tellier said. “My dad was Holland Dutch and they said I was just as stubborn as my dad.”
In total, Tellier spent six months recovering from his injuries while neighboring farmers helped him take care of his chores.
Now in his 60s, retired from farming and living in Clyde, NY, Tellier said he has suffered arthritis in most of his joints since the accident. His lack of a jaw muscle on one side has also caused him to develop temporomandibular joint disorder syndrome (TMJ) since he over-uses the other side to chew and talk.
Tellier likes to joke that his hospital bills cost 13 times that of his tractor, which suffered a broken rear wheel hub, broken fenders, crushed seat, dented hood and crushed radiator. The tractor took only a month to repair, unlike the six months of Tellier’s recovery. Like the lasting reminders of his accident, such as his lopsided smile, he let the tractor keep a few dents. He also added ROPS right away and refuses to drive equipment lacking ROPS.
“Every tractor should be outfitted with safety equipment like roll bars and seatbelts,” Tellier said. “Get it put on before something happens. And once you get them, use them every single time you get on that tractor. My accident could have killed me but for some reason, something has kept me around. It’s something you never forget.”
Despite his lasting pain, Tellier realizes he is one of the fortunate ones.
“Every year, about 27 of every 100,000 American farmers die on the job, mostly due to tractor overturns,” stated Julie Sorensen, PhD, in a press release.
Sorensen directs the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety, which started the first comprehensive ROPS rebate program in New York in 2006. According to the organizations, tractors represent the leading cause of death on American farms; however, ROPS are 99 percent effective in preventing non-fatal and fatal injury in tractor rollover incidences.
For information on the national ROPS program, including rebates for installing ROPS, visit www.ropsr4u.com.