It’s been eight years since Jerry Gill’s ATV accident – eight years of constant pain and endless doses of medication. Jerry still walks very stiffly, and the trauma of his injury shows every time he stands up or sits down.
But both Jerry and his wife Lawana are very thankful that he is still alive, and are convinced his mere survival is a miracle.
“The doctor said my L-1 vertebra looked like shatterproof glass in a windshield after a car accident,” said Jerry. “It took two surgeries to take all the pieces of it out. First, they went in through my belly and took the pieces on that side out, and next they went in through my back and cleaned up the rest of it.”
“It was like a handful of cookie crumbs,” said Lawana. “There was one shard of bone only 1/10th of a millimeter from his spinal column. The doctor said he’s seen patients with less severe injuries who didn’t make it.”
Jerry’s destroyed vertebra was eventually replaced with a section of cadaver arm bone from a bone bank, and several steel rods, bolts, screws and clamps.
Jerry sustained his life-threatening injury while riding an ATV to roundup cattle on a neighbor’s leased pasture.
“We were putting up some cows to vaccinate and there were four of us on four-wheelers,” said Jerry. “The fences weren’t very good and we had only one shot to get the cows into the pen.”
Jerry chased the balky cattle down to a pond bank overgrown with thick briars and weeds. “There was an old, washed-out cow trail on the bank, and the rear tire slid off into the trail,” Jerry said. “I downshifted because of the power, and the four-wheeler went straight up and over backwards on me. I heard my back pop. I was pinned for a short time.”
Jerry managed to free his trapped leg, and then tried to assess how badly he was hurt.
“I concentrated on moving my toes,” Jerry said. “I was still all by myself. I found I could wiggle the toes on the left, and then it took a little bit to move the right toes. When they wiggled, I said ‘Thank you Lord, I’ll be able to walk.’”
Jerry stayed calm and focused. Once he verified he could still wiggle his toes, he began summoning help.
“I didn’t panic,” said Jerry. “I started to holler for help. While I hollered, I took out my cell phone and called 9-1-1, and then I called my wife at work and left a message telling her I had hurt my back and I was going to the hospital.”
“I got the message, but he sounded so calm, I didn’t know how badly he was hurt,” said Lawana. “I called the guys at the farm a little later and they said that the ambulance had just gotten there, and I yelled, ‘Ambulance! What happened?’”
The paramedics who arrived on the scene quickly learned how seriously Jerry was hurt, and took every precaution they could.
Jerry endured a long, bumpy ride down an old gas-well road before the ambulance could actually put wheels on pavement. His shattered vertebra meant that his skeleton was literally broken into two separate pieces, and any one of the bumps could have meant death or paralysis.
Jerry’s accident occurred while he was riding his ATV strictly for farm work.
“I wasn’t playing, I was working. I never rode just for pleasure,” said Jerry. “It’s just a work tool for me.”
Even riders using four-wheelers for more serious work purposes need to be aware of the dangers.
“You have to be aware of your surroundings,” Jerry said. “Most of the common mistakes are drivers carrying other riders, or carrying loads that are too heavy, or operating in areas where it’s too steep. The engine is usually in back and that makes the front end a little light, and they are easy to tip over.”
Lawana even had her own four-wheeler accident on a pond bank in 2005, which broke her ankle.
Despite the hazards, Jerry finds four-wheelers to be necessary farm implements.
“I can still walk, but I can’t run and head off a cow,” said Jerry. “I need four-wheelers to get around. I am more cautious now. I remember all the time what could happen.”
The worst reminder Jerry lives with is the constant pain that’s been with him since the injury. After St. Edwards Hospital in Fort Smith finally released Jerry, he seemed to get better for a while.
“I got better for two years, and then arthritis took hold in the tissue,” Jerry said. “I’ve taken lots of pain meds, but it still hurt all the time. We took three trips to the Mayo Clinic last year and did all the tests.” While Jerry was hoping for a long-term solution, the best the doctors could do for him was install a pain pump.
“It’s no real fix,” Jerry said, “but it’s much better than the pills. The pain management doctor is going to schedule me for therapy again to build up the back muscles more, but I can only pick up about 10 pounds before I really hurt myself.”
Jerry hopes others learn from his experience, and keep safety in mind while riding four-wheelers.
“Realize the danger. The terrain can get you in trouble in a heartbeat.”


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