Randy Helt had been around heavy equipment his whole life, but when the throttle on the bulldozer he was driving in September 2007 malfunctioned, it caused an accident that nearly killed him.
Helt had driven his dozer up a pile of dirt and, after lowering the blade and idling the machine, he jumped onto its tracks to retrieve a bucket from the backhoe operator. “You don’t want to shut down a diesel. You put it in neutral,” he explained. But then the throttle malfunctioned again. “The throttle jumped wide open.”
As Helt reached to put the gearshift back in place, he said it “jumped into reverse and uprooted me.”
He fell, getting caught on the blade, which drug him 40 feet as the dozer careened down the hill. The dirt began to fill up around him but Helt resolved that he wouldn’t let it take him under. Then the blade lifted briefly. With effort, Helt rolled as hard as he could from under the blade.
In shock, Helt didn’t know the extent of his injuries, which included a crushed pelvis and a leg that had been pulled completely out of its socket. He was also hemorrhaging from an opened artery in his hip. Still conscious, Helt started rattling off phone numbers and instructions to turn the bulldozer off.
“Laying there in the dirt, I heard that MedStar was going to be flying in,” said Helt. The transfer and flight, he said, took mere minutes, life saving minutes. Helt had lost so much blood he needed 48 units in transfusion. “I was bled out,” he said. But he had a strong will to live so he could watch his grandchildren grow up and after a month in ICU, he started working to rebuild his life. Helt had lost most of the feeling in his lower body, had permanent damage to his digestive system, and his pelvis and ligaments had to be rebuilt.
“I’m just glad I’m alive,” he said, putting his situation into perspective.
For recovery and rehabilitation, Helt transferred to St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institution where progress, he said, was up and down due to the extent of his injuries.
Building up his strength and endurance, Helt learned how to adapt to wheelchair assisted mobility. “I didn’t want to even think about being in an electric chair. I’m 52 and I have a long way still to go,” he said.
When he arrived at St. Luke’s, Helt weighed a mere 98 pounds, but he said the staff kept him positive and motivated, from his therapists to the workers in the cafeteria. “When I first got here I wanted to be lazy and lay in the bed. They won’t let you.”
Working with his therapists, he lifted weights, focusing on gaining upper body strength. “We worked and worked and worked for ten months,” he said. “They definitely keep you going…It is an awesome, awesome place… They get you outside rolling around in the fresh air and push you onto other stuff…They are very, very good.”