SUGARCREEK, Ohio – “Life is what you choose to do with it. You can start living or start dying,” said Leroy Billman, a full-time beef cattle producer from Morrow County, Ohio, who lost his right arm in a farm accident when he was 19.
Billman was the guest speaker for the 15th annual Tuscarawas County Cattle Association meeting and banquet Feb. 14.
Forever changed. Billman said his life was changed forever Oct. 17, 1982, when he was rolling up beanstalks with the round baler. He got off the tractor to work on the baler, leaving the tractor and power take-off running, when his right arm became entangled.
“I was by myself and my first thought was that I was going to die. At first I tried to throw myself into the machinery to end it all quickly.
“Bad move. It didn’t work and now I am glad it didn’t because my life is great. I have everything I have ever wanted,” Billman said.
“Finally, my 13-year-old brother found me and turned off the tractor and went for help.
“In addition to my arm, I had many other injuries, including cuts on my legs and a steel pin had thrust into my one eye. They thought at first I would lose my eye. I had numerous injuries all over my body,” Billman recalled.
“At the time, I was the National FFA president and despite my injuries I was determined to go to Kansas City that fall for the National FFA Convention. For days, I was barely able to sit up in bed but I did make it to the convention.”
A long recovery. It took about three years to fully recover from the accident and he is still in almost constant pain in his shoulder.
This is known as “phantom pain,” where a person suffers after losing a body part. He has tried various ways of easing the pain, including hypnosis. He also searched for help at Cleveland Clinic, but so far, he has found no relief.
Lingering effects. Billman said that an accident like this not only affects the person who was injured but other people as well.
“It affected my 13-year-old brother, my parents, my grandparents and my friends,” he said.
“My father never mentioned the accident to me until last year when my mother died. Then he started talking about it and I learned for the first time what really happened after my brother found me.
“I think my father felt guilty because he had sent me there to do the baling. Also my daughter has been teased in school because her dad has only one arm.”
Humor, too. The room was quiet as Billman told of his experiences, but he was able to find humor in some of the situations. He found it amusing when someone asked him if he was right-handed or left-handed.
Another time, when he was applying for a loan, he was told the investment he was considering might not be too sound and he was advised that it could cost him an arm and a leg. He recalled replying, “Well, I have already lost an arm.”
Billman and his wife have a beef farm near Fredericktown, Ohio. They formerly raised Angus cattle and now raise club calves.
“I have been speaking on farm safety at many meetings all over the country,” Billman concluded.
“If I can save one person from going through what I did because of a moment of carelessness, it will be worth it all.”
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