By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
Russell Marshall lay writhing on the ground, his left arm ripped off just below the shoulder.
It was noon on March 23 when his jacket had gotten caught in the power-takeoff shaft between his tractor and a grain grinder.
Russell, 54, was violently twisted by the shaft until his arm came off and was thrown 20 feet away. The rest of his battered body lay on the ground — his life’s blood draining out.
Jacob — Russell’s 11-year-old son, who has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder — was playing on a swing set about 50 feet away when the accident occurred.
“I saw something flying through the air. I heard something crack and heard dad scream,” said the fifth-grader in Western Reserve Local Schools.
Conscious through the harrowing ordeal, Russell said he was lying on his belly and yelled for Jacob to get his wife, Melissa.
“I panicked. I didn’t want to die. I put my head down and told myself to calm down,” he said.
Jacob ran to the house and yelled for his mother, who threw on shoes, grabbed her cellphone and came out and saw what had happened.
“I turned the tractor off and called 911 and sent Jacob back to the house to get pillows and blankets — anything to stop the bleeding.
“There was steam coming off of his body. The only clothing he still had on were his underwear, belt and a sock and boot on his right foot.
“I didn’t know if he was still alive. The whole thing was very scary,” Melissa said.
Emergency personnel from the Berlin Center Fire Department arrived quickly.
“I heard the sirens and I could hear them talking,” Russell said.
Space was cleared for a medical helicopter to land in the parking lot of Ben’s Restaurant and Bar. Russell was transported to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he underwent three surgeries taking a combined 15 hours.
His injuries, as described by Melissa, were legion.
On his left side, he had five fractured ribs; multiple bilateral pelvis fractures necessitating his wearing an external fixator to keep him from moving; a hematoma near the left kidney with a contusion; crushed left knee and tibia; right ankle exploded; sternum fractured; left ankle fractured; severed left arm above the elbow; and the main artery to his right foot was severed. He lost four pints of blood, she said.
Russell was a part-time farmer and did maintenance work and helped with 4-H. “He helped everybody. He’s a good person. It’s really tough,” Melissa said.
“My son — he was a hero that day. If he hadn’t come and got me when he did, his dad wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Fast forward two months: Russell gives new meaning to the saying about “dealing with the cards you are dealt.”
Transferred to Canterbury Villa of Alliance on April 4, he is far ahead of where his doctors expected him to be in his physical therapy and general recovery, and the Marshalls learned Friday that he may be home for Memorial Day, Melissa said.
The little signs of progress delight him.
He got to use a real bathroom the other day and traded in his side walker for a cane.
“It was sweet,” he said.
While progress has been remarkable, Melissa said, bumps remain in the road.
Melissa and Jacob are in counseling, and Jacob is having anger problems.
Nonetheless, the family, including Russell, is able to talk about the traumatic event.
“I’ve never had a problem talking about it. It was a stupid accident that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” he said.
He said he still thinks the arm is there, but he is in the process of getting a prosthesis.
Once he gets home, he plans to do what he did before he was injured, but with a few adaptations.
First, the grinder is in the scrapyard.
Russell’s dream before the accident was to have up to 200 hogs, and he still plans to raise hogs. He said a friend is going to plant his corn for him; and how much corn he gets will determine how many animals he will have.
The family raises pigs to sell for fair projects, including for Jacob’s. It was grain for the hogs that Russell was grinding when he was injured.
In the meantime, Russell, with lots of therapy and possibly more surgeries ahead, said he does everything the therapists and doctors tell him, “no matter how much it hurts. I can’t sit still. I want to get home and see how the animals are coming. I want to get back to it.”
Melissa has had to do things that Russell used to do: take care of the animals, mow the lawn and find someone to fix things when they are broken that her husband used to repair.
When he comes home, the bed will have to be moved from the upstairs bedroom to the dining room, which will be converted to a bedroom.
Melissa said she purposely has been doing things with one hand “so I can better understand what he is going through.”
Russell’s health is improving, but the bills are piling up.
To help with medical bills and the cost of travel back and forth to the hospital and the nursing home in Alliance and other expenses, friends have organized a benefit spaghetti dinner and auction from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Berlin Township Fire Department, 15801 West Akron-Canfield Road, Berlin Center.
If you can't attend, but want to help the Marshall family, you can send a check or money order or donate in person to the Russell Marshall Benefit Account at any Farmers National Bank.
Married 23 years on May 24, Melissa said of Russell: “I’m so glad he’s here. All I can say is I love my husband. You can tell the world that.”
IF YOU GO
Benefit spaghetti dinner, 50/50 and auction.
Noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Berlin Township Fire Department, 15801 West Akron-Canfield Road (U.S. Route 224), Berlin Center.
All-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner with salad/applesauce and desert.
Adults, $8, $12 with chicken; children 6-12, pasta, $6, $8 with chicken.
Eat-in and carry-out available.