One minute Bill Leder was driving a bulldozer to clear a ravine, the next he was whisked to the hospital, having narrowly escaped death

by: JANIS BRENTANO - Bill Leder works with physical therapist Robyn Tynan at Woodburn Health Center to strengthen his left leg after a tractor accident left him severely injured six months ago.On a warm September evening six months ago, Bill Leder’s life took a tragic, irreversible turn.

“It happened just so quick,” he said.

Leder and his brother-in-law, Doug Haycock, and Haycock’s son Mason were working with a tractor and a Caterpillar bulldozer on Haycock’s small farm. Leder had just jumped off the Caterpillar to grab a tool he needed when the Caterpillar’s clutch vibrated into gear and, in a matter of seconds, the bulldozer ran over and killed Haycock, and severely injured Leder. The bulldozer then disengaged and came to rest leaving an irreversible path of destruction.

The accident left Leder’s body broken and bleeding profusely.

But Leder survived thanks to the fast action of Mason, several neighbors and the emergency responders. Leder said he is truly thankful for the quick, compassionate response of everyone that day – from the neighbor who held him in her arms before the first emergency responders arrived, to the Life Flight crew who started the lifesaving IV and flew him to the hospital.

Life now holds new challenges for Leder. He used to spend his days showing homes and property as a real estate broker. Today, managing the short distance between the parking lot and the doctor’s office has become a slow, challenging hobble on crutches.

Leder spent the entire month after the accident in the hospital, in and out of the operating room, enduring eight operations. From there he spent the next month in a rehabilitation center before he was finally able to return home in late November.

“It’s amazing, you lay down for a month and you lose your balance – you lose so much. You can’t believe how much you lose,” he said. “In the rehab center, they had to slowly get me up. I was in a wheelchair, then a walker. I was using a walker the whole time I was in there and didn’t get on my crutches until I got home. I got home two days before Thanksgiving.”

His left leg is encircled in a metal cage-like brace. It begins at his knee and continues to the sole of his foot, enabling him to use his leg without putting pressure on his ankle. Several of the cage’s metal pins are drilled into leg bone, which bears all of his weight when standing rather than his foot and ankle. There are more wires pinning and stabilizing his foot and ankle.

What was initially a broken left ankle turned more problematic when the skin around his ankle began dying off. The only way to save his foot, doctors told him, was to remove the ankle and fuse everything back in place. The procedure shortened his left leg by three-quarters of an inch, necessitating an excruciating, months-long stretching procedure. He has also endured a wound pump, skin grafts and an alphabet’s worth of different pain medication. His left arm was severely injured and has what he suspects will be permanent weakness. The least of his injuries was a cracked bone in his right foot, which healed after a month of wearing a cast-like walking boot.

All these physical injuries are compounded by the accompanying mental wounds of being involved in a traumatic accident. Leder said he plans to see a counselor about that after he is physically better. At the moment, healing his body takes all his energy. He continues a revolving door of doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions.

With a good report from his doctor, the metal brace on Leder’s left leg could come off as soon as next month. He stays as active as he can at home, riding his lawn tractor when the weather allows. His recovery has been helped immeasurably by the support and love of his wife, Pam, and grown children who live nearby. He said he has been back to the real estate office once since the accident but is not ready to get back to work quite yet. He still has plenty of healing to do.

“Everything to do with this is painful,” he said. “Everything is just an inch at a time.”

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