Farmer who lost foot proves resilience

Steve Nagy/Associated Press In this photo taken, Jan. 18, Russel Hallemann of Sorento, Ill., talks about how his prosthetic foot works. Hallemann lost his right foot during an accident on his farm in the fall of 2009.

'I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I've got stuff to do.'

TRENTON, Ill. (AP) -- Farmers are known for overcoming hardship, but friends and family still can't believe what Russel Hallemann did to keep from bleeding to death in a cornfield.

The 48-year-old Sorento man had been working for another farmer near Trenton last fall when the corn head on his silage chopper clogged up.

"I thought I could just clean it up while it was running," he said. "I had been doing that all my life and gotten away with it."

But the blade caught Hallemann's right leg, slicing through muscle in his thigh and leaving his severed foot hanging by skin.

He mustered the strength to hop around the chopper, which is similar to a combine. He climbed five steps to the cab, resting bone on metal, and called for help.

"You're either going to live or die," he said. "My focus was getting to the cell phone."

Hallemann used his flannel shirt as a tourniquet before climbing back down the steps. He was feeling queasy and knew emergency personnel would have trouble getting him out of the cab if he went into shock.

Hallemann then crawled about 200 feet to the edge of the cornfield to meet up with the other farmer.

Bizenberger decided to call an ambulance rather than drive to the hospital. He was shaking so hard he could barely dial the number.

He described Hallemann as "pale but alert" and anxious to get out of the field.

"He's definitely the toughest guy I know," Bizenberger said. "The way he was pulling himself around, the way he put the tourniquet on ... (The leg) was hardly bleeding by the time I got there."

Hallemann had to be moved to the road in a skid-loader bucket to keep the ambulance from getting stuck in mud.

A helicopter eventually flew him to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. He remained conscious throughout the ordeal.

"He was making jokes with the ambulance and helicopter guys," said his sister-in-law, Carol Taylor of Highland. "He's always in a good mood."

Hallemann was hospitalized for a week in early November. Doctors reattached his foot, but lack of blood flow led them to recommend amputation halfway between the ankle and knee.

Family members agreed it was the right course. They had butchered meat on the farm and knew the leg didn't look healthy.

"We were just being practical," said Hallemann's wife Cathy, a landscape designer in Belleville. "The doctor told me amputation was going to heal the leg faster and get him on his feet faster."

The Hallemanns have been married 13 years. They met when Russel, who also owns a contracting business, built a barn for Cathy's father.

After the accident, Cathy worried most about her husband's state of mind. Friends had warned her to expect bitterness, anger and depression.

"But Russ was the complete opposite," she said. "He was himself, except for not being able to do what he normally does. He has never had a bad attitude about it."

Allan Tipsword, owner of a Highland dairy farm, visited Hallemann in the hospital and found him more upbeat than expected.

Hallemann had built two sheds for Tipsword. Cathy helps his wife, Gay Tipsword, with catering.

"I have never seen anyone go through such a tragic experience and have the good spirits and good humor that he does," Gay said. "It's just unreal."

Today, Hallemann is back at work on the 200-acre farm he owns with his parents, Robert and Patricia. But he's moving slower than normal while getting used to his prosthesis.

Cathy and Robert take up some of the slack. The kids help when school's out.

The Hallemanns grow corn, soybeans and hay and raise about 60 head of cattle.

"I've always pushed," he said. "I've got two kids. I've got a wife. I've got a farm. I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I've got stuff to do."

Hallemann isn't shy about pulling up his pant leg and showing off the stainless-steel hardware and spring-loaded foot of his prosthesis.

He picked red, the color of International Harvester tractors, for the fiberglass partial leg and socket.

"I'm an International Harvester fan," he said. "So I figured I'd put my stickers on here."

Hallemann choked up when he talked about the outpouring of community love and support since the accident.

Family members and a neighbor harvested 500 acres of his corn and soybeans last fall. Students at Trenton Elementary sent dozens of cards.

"I'm the one who gives help," Hallemann said, admitting it hurts his pride to depend on others. "I don't receive it."

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