As a lifelong dairy farmer, Lenny Austin, thrives on hard work. He, his wife Becky, and their two sons’ farm in White Creek, NY, is home to 400 head of cattle. He takes pride in the straight-and-true barns and the tidy feed alleys. He ships almost 200 gallons of milk to Stewart’s Shoppes every day and has shown his registered Holsteins at the Washington County Fair for 40 years.
“I love my farm, and I enjoy my work,” Len says. “I care about my animals so much, I stay awake thinking about them.”
As 2016 began, Lenny had no idea that he would spend much of the next 8 months recovering from a catastrophic accident at Southwestern Vermont Health Care’s Centers for Living and Rehabilitation, known as CLR, in Bennington, VT.
On the evening of January 13, Lenny was working to repair a manure spreader with his nephew. One slip of the power take off set the machine turning and pulled Lenny inside. Luckily, he remembers nothing. The list of injuries goes on and on: traumatic brain injury, deflated lungs, every last rib broken, pelvis cracked, massive trauma to his whole left side… He was airlifted to Albany, NY; spent 3 weeks in a coma; and two months stabilizing at a center in Springfield, MA. When he arrived at CLR, he could barely talk or move at all. He hadn’t sat up in months.
"The injuries to his body and brain were more extensive than those we typically see here at CLR,” said Jessica Scott, DPT, his physical therapist at CLR.
“Even little movements were really painful for him. He couldn’t bend at all. Rolling over in bed was impossible for him to do on his own,” said Ted Madigan, COTA, his occupational therapy assistant at CLR.
It’s a good thing that Lenny understood already what it was like to work hard. He entered intense therapy with the team at CLR. He saw physical, occupational, and speech therapists several times a day 7 days a week. For the first 45 days, two therapists worked together during his sessions.
"We began working his arms and legs to increase range of motion. The first major accomplishment was when Lenny was able to sit at the edge of bed without physical assistance," Jessica said. "Next, we had to work on improving the motion in his hip. Sitting upright in a wheelchair for a prolonged period of time provided the stretch he needed."
Through the hours of work they did together, Lenny and the therapists learned each other’s personalities.
“Jessica was good and tough. She pushed me, and it’s good to be pushed,” Lenny said. “Ted and I would kid each other. They knew my potential, and I wanted to prove that I could do it.”
His wife appreciated that therapy sessions were always open to her and her family.
“It was very beneficial for us to watch and gain an appreciation for the work he was doing. And it was good to see the therapists, too. Their eyes were just as wide as Lenny’s when they accomplished something. The first day he stood,” Becky remembers, “it was awesome.”
Jessica and Ted remember that day, too.
“Lenny was always interested in doing more. His work ethic was endless,” said Ted. “It’s neat to see someone go from basic bedside therapy and walk out of here.”
"I am proud of him and the amazing progress he made,” Jessica added.
Lenny returned home in August. He wells up with joy when he talks about reuniting with his dogs and seeing his cows again. Physical therapists visit him at home a few times a week to check on his progress.
“I miss the therapists at CLR and what they were able to do for me,” Lenny says.
“They were able to make a lot of progress in a really short time,” Becky adds.
His work to improve continues, and he expects to be back to his routine by spring. Becky and Lenny are grateful to “the amazing core of White Creekers,” who supported them through the ordeal; to their sons, who kept the farm running; and to the staff and therapists at CLR for helping him return to his life and the work he loves.