Sutter Rehabilitation Institute
Tom - Returning to Life After a Devastating Crash
After enjoying dinner, wine and conversation at a friend’s house, Tom Dieckmann stepped into his Land Rover, clicked the seat belt and started the engine. After turning on the headlights he began driving home on Sutter County’s back country roads. Driving faster than he should have been in the late dark night, Tom missed a stop sign at a dead end, crossed the road and crashed head-on into a large oak tree. The front of the SUV burst into flames, with Tom trapped inside.
By the time CHP officers arrived the fire had already gutted the dash and the passenger side of the car. The officers tried to put out the flames and once the flames died down some they tried to get to Tom. But the officers couldn’t open the driver’s side door to get Tom out. The fire department arrived and placed one of their duty jackets over Tom to shield him from the flames. Next they used the jaws-of-life to remove the Land Rover’s roof. Emergency responders pulled Tom out and life flighted him to Sutter Roseville Medical Center’s Trauma Center.
Tom, a robust 64-year-old, owns Feather Falls Farm, an organic farm in Yuba City that supplies fruits and vegetables to 20 farmer’s markets in northern California. In the spring his farm harvests cherries, apricots, peaches, pluots, nectarines, tomatoes, watermelons and cantaloupes; in the fall the harvest includes broccoli, cabbage, beets, carrots, walnuts and pecans.
Although busy with the farm, Tom is also a golf enthusiast who enjoys playing a couple times a week at the local courses. And, he likes being with family and friends. But now, with his injuries from the crash being so severe, his family wondered if he would survive.
Tom suffered burns on his arms along with extensive injuries, with two fractured femurs, a fractured pelvis, two punctured lungs and nine broken ribs. The trauma team at Sutter Roseville Medical Center raced into action when Tom arrived at the Trauma Center by helicopter.
A team of physicians treated Tom’s broken bones and burned arms. First they performed surgery on Tom to place steel rods in each leg from his hip to his foot. In addition, surgeons placed three steel rods in his right foot. Later physicians performed more surgeries and skin grafts to help the skin on Tom’s burned arms.
Tom was discharged to a skilled nursing facility where he had to heal from his surgeries before beginning rehabilitation that would teach him how to perform daily living activities all over again. By the time he was admitted to Sutter Rehabilitation Institute Tom had been medically cleared for weight bearing convalescence. He had thick black “walking boots” fitted on his wounded feet and legs.
However, it took two full days of rehabilitation staff working with Tom to control his blood pressure before he could stand up without passing out. After that Tom’s typical day at SRI was to wake up, get dressed, wheel to the dining area for breakfast, and then begin speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
Speech therapists helped Tom recover from having a tracheotomy when he was in the medical center’s Trauma Neuro Unit. In physical therapy sessions the therapists helped Tom walk again by harnessing Tom in a special lift that hoisted him upright to practice taking small steps.
Occupation therapists helped prepare Tom for living back at home with his injuries. The therapists worked on strengthening the muscles in his arms for toileting, showering, shaving and teeth brushing. He practiced fixing meals in the SRI kitchen in order to be able to fix meals at home.
After four weeks in the rehabilitation center, Tom could walk, with the help of a walker, from his room to the dining area. Although he still tired easily, Tom was finally physically ready for home.
Now at home, Tom continues therapy but on an out-patient basis at Sutter Roseville’s inpatient therapy department. He also tries to manage the paperwork the farm generates with orders, bill of sales, etc. His son, Tommy, has taken over the other farm duties until Tom is fully recovered.
Currently Tom can take care of himself 100 percent and can get around his home without help. He’s even starting to work a little on the farm. Although he wishes recovery would come a little faster, Tom is well aware he’s come a long way from having such severe injuries. He’s looking forward to building his strength to work more. He is also looking forward to getting back on the golf links to play again. This summer is for recovery he says. Next summer will be for golf.
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