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History
Minnesota National Guard
Minnesota Guardsman overcomes severe injury with positive attitude, hard work

James Houdek CAMP RIPLEY, Minn- A little more than a year after Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Houdek was severely injured in a farming accident near his Little Falls, Minn, home, he is back to work with the Minnesota National Guard and adapting to life with a prosthetic

"When I came out of the first surgery, they were telling me that they were hoping that within a year I would be able to hold a pen," said Houdek "Since then I've come a lot further, a lot more than what they had thought"

On Nov 12, 2013, Houdek took a day off from his full-time job as a wage leader at Camp Ripley's Consolidated Maintenance Activity - South to harvest corn on his 60-acre hobby farm Halfway through, he stopped to check on his machinery, leaving the tractor running When he went to clear some corn out of the husking bin of the picker, his right arm was pulled into the shaft As he was trying to pull his right hand out, his left hand got caught in another shaft, trapping both his arms in the machine

After some time, Houdek was able to free his right arm by separating his hand from his arm He was also able to use his foot to stop his left arm from being pulled any further into the machine With a road behind him, he kept pressure on his wounds and tried to stay conscious until a neighbor drove by, saw him and came to see if he needed help

"From the time I left my house until the time that my neighbor called and found me was over an hour that I was in the field trapped in the corn picker by myself," said Houdek

During that time, Houdek did his best to stay calm and use the training he received in the military to stay alive for his wife, Lisa, and their three daughters He walked his neighbor through the steps to apply a tourniquet on both his arms using string from the hoods of their jackets He was transported by ambulance to Little Falls and airlifted from Little Falls to North Memorial Medical Center in Minneapolis where a team of doctors prepared him for surgery

"At that point, I said, I don't care about my hand, just keep me alive for my wife and kids," Houdek remembers

At the hospital, the doctors told him they wouldn't be able save his right hand due to the risk of infection They questioned how much function he would have in his left arm which had sustained over nine breaks below the elbow and extensive nerve damage

"They actually told me that if my right hand wasn't amputated, they were going to amputate my left hand," said Houdek "But since they couldn't save my right hand, they did what they could to save my left"

Houdek credits his military training for helping him to stay calm and respond to the situation

"In the course of an hour, I was highs and lows, I went up and down the whole emotional roller coaster," said Houdek "I honestly think that if it wasn't for the military training that I had - walking him through the tourniquet, trying to stay calm and focused when there's a lot of stuff going on - panicking isn't going to help at all I think I stayed calm the majority of the time, I was trying to do all I could to save myself"

The months after the accident Houdek says were difficult both physically and emotionally After three months he started healing more, was fitted for a prosthetic and started to brighten up a little bit It was then that he began to focus on getting back to work

"[I thought] I can work with this I'm still here; life goes on; I'll make the best of it and do what I have to do," said Houdek "Let's get therapy done and get back to work and get back to the Guard"

Last May, just six months after the accident, Houdek attended weapons qualification with his unit and qualified expert on the M16 using his left hand He initially came back to work on light duty, but is now off light duty and back to fixing things in the shop

In addition to support from his superiors and co-workers, Houdek has received tremendous support from his family, friends and the local community throughout his recovery process

"My wife is awesome and completely understanding and accepting," said Houdek "We just said, 'We'll get through it and figure it out because life goes on' We might think we're in charge but we're not"

"I'm lucky and I'm a firm believer that I wasn't in that field alone," said Houdek "I might have physically been the only person there, but I wasn't alone Throughout life too, the good Lord is watching over us and he challenges us in different ways"

March 4, 2015
by Master Sgt Blair Heusdens
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs



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