ETHAN, S.D. (KELO) — A devastating snowmobile crash earlier this year quickly changed the life of a Mitchell area man.
On January 21, Lee Waldow was out riding with a family member when he crashed into a trench hidden by a large snowdrift.
It was a fun day of riding sleds for Lee and Bo Burkel near the family farm until the unthinkable happened.
“I turned around and he was going full force for that snowdrift,” family member Bo Burkel said.
A snowdrift that disguised a washout that created a large trench. Burkel yelled to warn Lee.
“But he couldn’t hear me, so then all of a sudden I just seen him going and then he disappeared,” Burkel said
“At the moment, a little rush of adrenaline smacked my face, and then I woke up and I couldn’t feel anything,” Lee said.
“Hollered for him and then got to where the snowmobile was and it was on fire. I shut it off and saw him laying there,” Burkel said.
“I remember Uncle Bo coming over and yelling for me, asked if I was OK, and at first I was just glad to be alive,” Lee said.
Lee was helped onto Burkel’s snowmobile and driven to the nearest road where they waited for an ambulance.
“He was sitting up in the vehicle on the passenger seat and he just started seizing up. And then so we got him down to the ground and he stopped breathing for a couple of seconds. I thought we lost him,” Burkel said. “Then he came back, was able to breathe, then started throwing up blood and just throwing it up.”
Neighbors, family members and first responders arrived to help stabilize Lee as they waited for an ambulance. He was taken first to Mitchell then transferred to Sioux Falls and diagnosed with Central Cord Syndrome.
“The disc is still pressing on his spinal cord, so until he has surgery, that’s going to be like that. And if he were to fall even a little bit, it could get pushed more and he could become fully paralyzed. What he has is kind of like a partial paralyzation,” Lee’s wife Ashley Waldow said.
For now, Lee has to wear a neck brace full time.
“Weakness in my arms and my hands. The biggest thing is, can’t go back to work or do anything until I get the surgery,” Lee said.
Getting one scheduled hasn’t been easy due to battles with insurance.
“They had it scheduled previously and it got called off the night before at 5:00. So we had went, were ready for surgery and they ended up canceling it that day before. That was pretty frustrating. Now, it’s like a light at the end of the tunnel,” Ashley said.
After the surgery, they hope Lee regains his strength and can feel some normalcy. He works on his father-in-law’s farm, and they’re ready to have him back.
“We call each other, he’s the left brain, I’m the right brain, because together we can get stuff done if one of us don’t know or look at it different ways. So, I mean, he’s a big help on the farm. We we miss him now. We need his help,” Burkel said.
Burkel is not the only one ready to see Lee back to normal.
“We’ve been starting to have a lot more fun together and stuff and it’s been way better. And then now I can’t do much with him, but we still go outside and he’s been throwing baseball for me. It’s really been nice, and I’m looking forward to when he gets better,” Lee’s stepson Gabriel Gerlach said.
Regardless of what happens in Lee’s recovery, they are happy he’s here.
“It’s amazing having him here. We’re so grateful that he’s okay. We’re so grateful. Like, there’s so many things that happened that day that if they would have happened any differently, he wouldn’t be here today,” Ashley said.
Lee credits Burkel and everyone who helped after the crash for being here.
“He did probably save my life that day, so that and whoever else was with him,” Lee said.
“There’s somebody protecting him because all the things that could have happened, you know. The rebar, he flew by a rebar that was just inches and it could have pierced through his heart, you know? And so God was watching out for him,” Burkel said.
The Waldows are thankful for all the support — from the moment the crash happened to now.
“I’m just ready for the next step of recovery. I’ve been at a standstill for a while,” Lee said.
“It’s going to be a long process, but we’re definitely ready for the next step and for him to get more of a life back,” Ashley said.
Lee’s surgery is now scheduled for May 23. In the meantime, his wife Ashley has picked up a second job to help with bills.
If you’d like to help the the family, there is a GoFundMe set up for them.