In the early 90's, Lynn was building hutches for the family's Holstein calves when he took an 8 ft. fall from the hutch roof, only to land on his back half on/half off the concrete pad below. While the immediate pain and numbness diminished within two days, Lynn faced increasingly difficult bouts of severe back pain over the following years. His "independent farmer spirit," combined with the fact that the family was without health insurance at the time, resulted in Lynn's reluctance to seek healthcare services until he awoke one morning during the 1997 Memorial Day weekend to find that he was experiencing unbearable pain in his legs.
Physicians initially rejected Lynn's diagnosis of a back problem that caused the pain in his legs, and before long he was sent home. That summer, Lynn did much of the farming on crutches, since he was frequently unable to use his legs effectively. After several emergency trips to the hospital and to various physicians throughout the remaining months of that year, doctors finally concurred that the problems were stemming from the lower back and surgery was scheduled for January.
"The doctor's said the operation would take less than an hour," recalls Lynn. "Instead, it took nearly three. The surgeon found a piece of vertebrae that had broken off and lodged between my spinal cord and the spinal column. I also had a ruptured disk and other problems as a result of neglecting the initial injury for so long." Today, Lynn still suffers from significant lower back pain that has not been resolved through surgery, therapy or other alternatives. In addition, he has knee problems that significantly restrict his mobility and agility.
It was during the difficult months of the previous autumn that Lynn first learned that support was available through the Pennsylvania Office for Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) and, subsequently, the AgrAbility project. Though clearly needing the support, Lynn first asked to talk with other farmers who had benefited from the program's various resource partners. "It was important for me to talk first-hand with someone else who had gotten involved," explains Lynn. "Like many people, I was a little leery of another government program. But the farmer I talked to had one thing to say. 'Go for it. You have nothing to lose,' the guy suggested. It was some of the best advice I ever took."
OVR contacted AgrAbility to perform the on-site assessment that is the first step in the process to provide support. Explains Linda Fetzter, AgrAbility for Pennsylvanian's Project Assistant & Outreach Coordinator, "Our intent is to sit down with the client to explore what types of assistive technology would be most appropriate for the situation."
"While talking with the farm family, a list of farm tasks that are difficult for the farmer to accomplish independently and safely is compiled," continues Linda. "This list identifies each difficult task and the equipment or modifications that will help to make the job easier for the farmer. After this list is compiled, an occupational or physical therapist is brought in to the team to evaluate suggested modifications in order to prevent secondary injuries."
Since Lynn qualified for OVR services, OVR provided the following assistance: an ergonomic tractor seat; agri-speed hitches which enable him to hitch and unhitch wagons without dismounting from the tractor; certain parts of the milking parlor and automatic take-off units; and some support of his medical bills.
"I am so grateful for the things that AgrAbility and OVR were able to do for me," says Lynn. "Their help came at a time when things were really bleak, and the support they gave made a real difference."
Today, Lynn and his brother Barry, who is also a partner in the Fairview Farm operation, are completing the building of a free-stall barn to better accommodate the 160 cows they milk. They are also racing against the rain and quickly fading spring to get their corn planted and other field work completed. These are the challenges all farmers face; yet they are compounded by the additional physical challenges Lynn faces each day.
Determination will continue to drive Lynn forward in his dream of farming for himself, wife Genavie, and his five children, ages 7-25. Persistence and a willingness to reach out for the support systems that are available to him help create the foundation for his success. Lynn would like to encourage others to seek support if they need it. "This program is out there just waiting for farmers and farm family members to take advantage of its resources," says Lynn. "Farmers with back or knee problems, or those with arthritis or some other injury or disease should not hesitate to get in touch with the project."