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12-06-02: Personal determination and faith lead to steps of recovery
The Daily Standard

    Eugene Homan welcomes challenges - those occasional bumps in the road of life that test a person's determination and faith. His philosophy remains one of optimism, clinging tenaciously to the positive even in the face of adversity and refusing to settle for the negative even in the darkest moments.
    Homan, a Mercer County dairy farmer, encountered one of those bumps a year ago when a farm accident resulted in life-threatening injuries. His determination and faith never wavered even though the prognosis was anything but optimistic.
    The accident occurred Nov. 15, 2001, as he was on a tractor working with a large round hay bale. The bale rolled and bounced off the father of eight leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. A farmhand and a Midwest Electric employee working nearby rushed to his aid and summoned help. The wail of the ambulance siren sounded like beautiful music to them as rescue squad personnel responded hurriedly.
    An emergency room doctor at Coldwater Community Hospital initiated steroid treatment before calling for the CareFlight helicopter from Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. His decision was later credited with preventing additional swelling that would have caused even more  damage.
    "The pain was so intense," Homan recalls with a grimace. "I felt every bump in the back of the ambulance and every rotation of the helicopter blade. And yet, I considered that pain an omen. I could feel its grip and knew I was going to get better."
    Specialists in Dayton grimly studied the MRI results < fractures of the third, fourth and fifth cervical vertebra and a bone fragment pressing against the spinal cord. Additionally, there were areas of hemorrhage and contusion along the cord and total disruption of a ligament. They used ominous words like "very serious" and "life-threatening" to describe the injury.
    Surgeons worked four hours, removing one disk and fusing two others with a titanium plate. A halo device, held in place with long screws, was applied to stabilize the head and neck.
    His wife, Mary Jane Homan, remembers the look on the neurosurgeon's face. She knew the prognosis before the doctor warned, "It doesn't look good."
    Eugene Homan tried repeatedly to move his fingers and toes following surgery, praying for even the slightest response. A member of the trauma team stood at the bedside two weeks later and pointedly asked Mary Jane Homan, "What are you going to do with him?" She confidently replied, "I'm going to take him home and help him get well."
    An intensive care nurse proved equally pessimistic, telling Michelle Homan her father would likely spend the rest of his life in a nursing home. She at least made the remark out of his earshot.
    With a ventilator tube in his mouth, Eugene Homan used blinking and a paper containing the alphabet to communicate. It took considerable effort and time to form complete sentences. He quickly assumed the role of cheerleader, boosting the spirits of family and friends who had come to brighten his day.
    He never stopped trying to move. Two and one-half weeks into recovery, his efforts were rewarded with slight movement of the big toe on his right foot, then a finger and the thumb on the right hand.
     "I took that as a sign of more progress to come," he says. "Movement gradually returned on the right side during weeks three through six. It was like someone had cut me right down the middle. The right side was coming along but there was nothing on the left."
    He left the hospital briefly on Dec. 15 to attend the wedding of his daughter, Alissia, to Jason Schumacher. The sight of him rolling down the aisle in a wheelchair beside the radiant bride brought tears to the eyes of those gathered in church. He also attended the wedding dinner before returning by ambulance  to Miami Valley.
    "My husband was adamant from the very beginning that Alissia and Jason go ahead with their wedding as planned," Mary Jane Homan says. "We got the largest tuxedo jacket the shop had and bought an extra large white shirt to fit over the halo. I made a burgundy scarf for his neck to match the wedding colors."
    His greatest Christmas present came without fancy wrapping paper or ribbon. On Dec. 25, the thumb on the left hand moved downward a quarter of an inch. Tears of joy welled in his eyes. The elation he felt at that moment was greater than the day he stood for what seemed like an eternity (five seconds).
    "I saw so many patients in the rehabilitation unit who were in far worse shape," he says. "My eating buddy (a Kentucky judge) ended up going to a nursing home. I looked around and felt truly blessed."
    He left the hospital Jan. 10, eight weeks after the accident. Older brother Lavern Homan provided the ride back to Mercer County in his van equipped with a wheelchair lift. He was injured some years ago in a fall from a hay mow, but never regained the ability to walk.
    Eugene Homan quickly settled into a routine of physical and occupational therapy three times a week at Community Sports and Therapy Center in Celina. There were also trips to the Auglaize-Mercer County YMCA in Minster as well as exercise sessions at home, all part of his personal therapy program. He resumed duties as director of the Dairy Farmers of America in Mercer and Auglaize counties with the assistance of his wife, who initially did the driving. Since July he has attended meetings on his own.
    "Recovery turned out to be a slow, steady process," he says. "I gladly gave up the halo March 13. Regaining bladder and bowel control after four to five months was as great an accomplishment as finally walking. Ironically, doctors never considered either part of the plan."
    He repeatedly told physical therapist Heidi Lemmerman to give him a good workout, pointing out, "I'm between a rock and hard place and you're doing no favors if you go easy on me."
    The 48-year-old farmer, who now walks with a slight limp, completed physical therapy earlier this week. Occupational therapy continues in hopes of regaining more movement in his left hand.
    "The doctors predict I have two to 21Ž2 years to get movement back," he says. "Right now most of my time is dedicated to recovery."
    He understands the need to take a managerial role in his Franklin Township farm operation. Even something like riding in his beloved John Deere could be dangerous, as the jarring puts undue strain on the damaged vertebrae.
    In addition to learning more about medicine than he ever imagined, he admits being on the receiving end of so much help has been a new experience. He was used to giving help, not accepting it. People rallied to the family's aid, planting and harvesting crops, setting up work schedules, supplying meals during the long hospitalization and making sure the children got to school and extracurricular events.
    "I believe much of what I have accomplished is due to the prayers of family, friends, neighbors, parishioners and fellow dairymen," he says. "For this I will be forever in their debt and sincerely thankful. So many people stepped forward to help me and my family. This speaks volumes about the community in which we live."
    Homan continues to view his injury as a challenge to overcome.
    "God doesn't send you a cross you can't bear," he says with conviction. "I'm not the only person who has faced adversity in life. You simply make changes and get on with life. You have to look ahead, not back at how things used to be."


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