It was Oct. 31, 2000, when A.J. Peters, now 65, decided to blow leaves out of the gutters on his home in York. The York farmer finished one side of the house and started on the other when he stepped on wet leaves, slipped and fell from the roof onto the ground.
When he attempted to get up, he could not move nor feel his legs. Peters suffered a complete T-9 spinal cord injury, meaning he had total loss of motion and sensation from the mid-spine and below. He spent 90 days in the spinal cord unit at Craig Hospital in Littleton, Colo., where he took part in intense rehabilitation, including physical therapy and occupational therapy.
While at the hospital, he learned how to complete some everyday tasks once again such as dressing and eating. He also learned how to transfer himself from wheelchair to the bed or vehicle and vice versa and how to go up or down the stairs in the case of an emergency.
When he returned home, his life was forever changed, yet because of his love and passion for farming he was determined to carry on no matter what it took. It took Peters and his wife, Bette, time to adjust to their new life, but after several months, he was ready to begin his work on the farm.
Because giving up farming was not an option he entertained, Peters surpassed many obstacles and learned that anything is possible through the use of adaptations and modifications.
One source of assistance was Nebraska AgrAbility, which is a joint effort of the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension and Easter Seals of Nebraska. Nebraska AgrAbility helps farmers with disabilities “overcome barriers to continue in their chosen agricultural profession.” AgrAbility staff collaborates with a variety of other rural professionals to modify farm and ranch operations, adapt equipment, increase farmstead accessibility and provide financial counseling. Some key professional partners who get involved in Nebraska AgrAbility efforts are Nebraska Vocational Rehabilitation counselors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, prosthetist, bankers, Social Security Administration representatives, Centers for Independent Living, and financial counselors The Peters’ were excited to learn that Nebraska AgrAbility could assist them with modifying equipment and tools so A.J. could return to his farm life. The combined result of Nebraksa AgrAbility’s expertise regarding ag related assistive technology, and Vocational Rehabilitation’s assistance with funding helped A.J. return to work on the farm.
Since the accident lifts have been installed on his tractor, combine and his truck. In addition, all of his equipment has been modified with hand controls for his brakes and clutches. With the appropriate modifications, A.J. continues to farm 1,000 acres with his son. It is not unusual to see A.J. spending long hours in the fields cultivating, hilling, irrigating or harvesting. While the ways in which Peters farms have changed, such as using hand controls rather than foot pedals, his love and passion for the profession is as strong as ever. Bette says that they have learned there is an adaptation or modification for just about everything and that if A.J. wants to do something, they just have to find the right ones. A.J. and his wife feel fortunate despite the many obstacles they are presented with on a daily basis.
“I don’t plan on quitting any time soon,” he says.
If you or someone you know is in need of the services of Nebraska AgrAbility, visit www.agrabilityproject.org. The phone number is 1-800-471-6425.
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Russell, a native of Trumbull, is a graduate student at College of Saint Mary in Omaha, majoring in occupational therapy.