Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Jim Engelhardt lay in a hospital bed in house in Saddle Butte Estates Wednesday, watching television and looking at pictures his 3-year-old son, Keanan, would bring after finishing drawing them. “I’ve been sitting in bed for a long time now,” he said. “ I am happy I survived.” His wife, Sheena McCarthy, said his survival is incredible. Engelhardt fell 45 feet or more on Aug. 5 to rocks below when a zipline he was riding at Purgatory Bay at Fresno Reservoir broke. McCarthy said the rule is that people who fall 32 feet have only a 50 percent chance to survive, and often suffer paralysis or brain damage even if they do survive. If a person falls 64 feet, the chance of survival drops to 2 percent. “(Jim) fell 45 or 50 feet and he still has his head, his nerves. It’s a wonderful thing,” she said. “That man always lands on his feet, literally and figuratively.” He now sits in his bed, his left leg amputated below the knee, his right foot held together with a network of steel, pins in his broken hips and a brace supporting broken vertebrae and his hips, and a slowly healing tongue he bit through in the fall. He spends his time with his wife and son and daughter, 1-year-old Lily. He travels to his doctor, and is awaiting being healed enough to start therapy. He was measured Thursday in the first step in getting a prosthetic leg. Engelhardt’s medical expenses have already run into tens of thousands of dollars, with more to come. A self-employed contractor, he has no health insurance. Engelhardt’s sister-in-law Linda Benboe, his friends and countless others in the community have planned a benefit dinner and silent auction Saturday at the Eagles Club to help with his medical expenses. Nearly 50 businesses and individuals have contributed some 60 items for the silent auction. “A lot of local people have really pitched in,” Engelhardt said. “ Everybody has been supportive and helpful.” Engelhardt said he bought a zipline a line tethered at two points, where the user holds a device and slides down the line earlier this year. “We had been doing it all summer,” he said. “It was about the fifth time that I went that day.” Engelhardt and his younger brother, Steve Engelhardt Jr., were using the line while some friends Ron Watson, Paul and Candi Krezelak and Chris and Tina Anderson were were watching in boats on the reservoir. Engelhardt said he started his run on the line when “it just sheared. Right as I started out, right as I stepped out.” He said he really doesn’t remember much after that until he woke up in a hospital in Seattle. He does vaguely remember seeing an old high school friend now an emergency medical technician and waking up with his dad, Steve Engelhardt Sr., in an airplane. “The next thing I remember is waking up in Seattle,” he said. “I opened my eyes, I had a trach in my throat, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t see. It was dark, it was the middle of the night.” He stayed in the hospital through August 31. He later put things together that had happened after the line broke. His brother was the first to reach him after the fall, and his friends arrived soon after, including Candi Krezelak and Tina Anderson, both nurses. They called an ambulance, and transported him by boat to the ambulance when it arrived. After he was transported to Seattle, The doctors performed surgery right away to clean out the bone fragments, dirt, rocks and debris. When he awoke, he was told that his left leg was “pretty much crushed beyond repair,” and would take at least three years of repetitive surgery to have any chance of working again, with no guarantee. The other option was to amputate and use a prosthetic leg. “I made the decision pretty much right away,” Engelhardt said. “I don’t think I could have stood the pain.” He said his lack of insurance also led to his decision. “I don’t know if I could have asked for three years of surgery without knowing how to pay for it,” Engelhardt said. He returned to his home about the first of September, to the surprise of his caregivers in Seattle, who expected him to go to a care facility to heal first. “Without insurance you can’t get in anywhere,” he said. “I had to come home and Sheena’s been taking care of me.” “It’s been working out all right,” his wife added. He has one-and-a-half months before he can even start his physical therapy he can only move his right ankle slightly, and doesn’t know if that will ever be fully functional again and is just starting to be fitted for a prosthetic leg. “A robot foot, as Keanan puts it, a robot leg,” Engelhardt said. The expenses so far come to $12,000. That doesn’t include the bills for surgery or work done since he returned to Havre Sept. 1. The cost of a single prosthesis which, he added, he is told has to be replaced every few years is $10,000. The benefit Saturday was set up to help pay those expenses. It includes dinner from 4 to 7 p. m. at $5 a plate followed with music by the Other Brothers Band from 7 to 10 p.m., and the silent auction of some 60 or more items. The donations for the auction include gift certificates; clothes; tools including a Makita reciprocating saw; a Kitchen Aid blender; a $599 Dyson vacuum cleaner, art by local artists including Keith Stromberg, Ned Malone, Vernon The Boy, and Kim Reinmuth including a one-of-a kind landscape and other prints. Engelhardt said he doesn’t know what he will do once he is through therapy and rehabilitation. He would like to stay in a field related to construction he has been working with his father in the field since he was a child but won’t be able to work on site. “I’d like to think I can find something surrounding construction I can do,” he said. “It’s going to take some training.” He said he could possibly be trained more in doing estimates and bids in the construction field, or might look into going to college to learn computeraided- design or engineering. “There is no guarantee construction will have a position for me, especially in Havre,” he said. “I am forced to be open for a new position.” He said he is thankful for all of the support and help he has received. “It’s been really good. I had no idea that many people knew who I was,” he said. “It’s been awesome knowing people are helping.” “Knowing people care about you,” McCarthy added.