Remarkable recovery: A combined 14 surgeries later, Bart and Sherry DeBoer share tale of crash with suspected drunk driver
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — There are moments that change a person’s life. Moments that — for better or for worse — are unforgettable. Moments by which you gauge the calendar of your lives.
For former Worthington residents Bart and Sherry DeBoer, that moment came on July 30, 2016.
“It was a Saturday afternoon, a beautiful day,” Bart recalled. “We were figuring out what to do. Sherry wanted to go to some antique stores in Beresford, S.D., so we decided to take the back roads and go on our motorcycle.”
They took U.S. 18 from their home in Sioux Falls. Yes, they were wearing helmets. But helmets can’t save you when you’re hit broadside by a John Deere tractor driven by a suspected drunk driver.
Bart can’t say much more about the accident than that, as the legalities are yet to be ironed out.
As the tractor smashed into them, Sherry flew into the ditch and the motorcycle fell on top of Bart. Sherry remembers very little about the next few moments of her life. Bart remembers pretty much everything until he arrived at the hospital.
“The driver (who was unharmed) called 911,” Bart narrated. “Two helicopters came.”
One helicopter took Sherry to Sanford; the other took Bart to Avera in Sioux Falls.
“The only thing I remember,” Sherry revealed, “is being in the ditch and being in pain and looking up and seeing my left leg mangled. It didn’t look good. I have no memory of riding in the helicopter; I don’t remember people talking to me.”
Bart, on the other hand, remembers all of that. He remembers lying in the ditch, his left side hurting, unable to move his right side, wondering if he was paralyzed, worrying about Sherry.
“You go into survival mode,” Bart shared. “Your brain deals with what it needs to deal with. I was asking so many questions.”
The next two weeks of his life, however, are blank.
“I’ve lost the two weeks after the accident,” said Bart. “I was on ventilation and drugged up.”
Given the severity of his wounds, that isn’t surprising.
“I broke 18 ribs, my left leg broke below the knee, my left arm and upper arm were broken. My right shoulder blade broke and a vertebra in my neck and back. I was in a neck brace and body brace for a couple months. I spent 80 days in the hospital, and Sherry spent 55.”
Bart spent the first part of his recovery at Avera. After initially spending time in the trauma unit, Bart then spent a week or two with his leg held in an external fixator to help keep it steady.
Sherry was transferred to Avera after three days, which was nice for their family, having both patients in the same hospital. She was dealing with plenty of wounds of her own.
“I had my upper leg and lower leg shattered,” Sherry shared, “and a big gash of skin gone above my knee. I had three broken ribs, a broken pelvis, and the lower bones were broken in my left arm.”
For Sherry, perhaps the worst part was the “big gash of skin” that had to be dealt with. Both Bart and Sherry faced skin grafts and all that comes with that — including severe wound cleansing issues.
“It took a long time before I could get the graft,” Sherry described. “The side of my leg had the tendons and tissue gone. They had to get it cleaned out because it was dying. They had to do debridement surgery to clean the wound, and then they checked it day after day for weeks.”
All those checks ultimately revealed a discouraging fact: Sherry’s leg wasn’t healing. They simply couldn’t clean out all of the dirt and infection from the wound.
“Finally the plastic surgeon decided to try hyperbaric oxygen treatment to stimulate tissue growth in that area,” Sherry explained. “It was kind of interesting. He had never used that before.”
Sherry’s doctor, as it turned out, is the son of a doctor, and he consulted with his father on the difficulty of the case. It was his father who suggested using the hyperbaric chamber.
“They put me in a tube,” Sherry divulged. “The door shut. They depressurized it and filled it with oxygen. I was there for over an hour.”
For the next five days, they waited. Then, Sherry revealed, came the magic moment.
“The doctor came and the wound care nurses sucked out the fluid (from the wound). Then they gasped and the doctor looked at me,” Sherry recounted. “‘I think we’ve seen a miracle,’ he said.”
“We’re so thankful for our doctors,” Bart said. “We feel that prayers brought the right doctors to us. Dr. Rothrock was our orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Howard our plastic surgeon.”
All together, Sherry had nine surgeries and Bart had five.
Bart, too, faced skin grafts and issues with his wounds not healing. He spent two weeks at Avera and was then sent to Select Specialty Hospital, a Sanford-owned acute long-term care hospital in Sioux Falls, where they could focus on his infections.
In the two weeks he and Sherry were in the same hospital, they saw each other a total of three times. Still, they count it a blessing that he was not transferred to Mayo, because then their son BJ (who lives in Harrisburg, S.D.) and daughter Ashley Hibma (in Lake Park) — as well as Bart and Sherry’s siblings — were able to stay with them and help out far more easily than if they’d been separated further and been several hours apart.
“Our families were so amazing,” Bart and Sherry agreed.
Amazing, too, they agree, was the prayer support from total strangers.
“You go to church and you know about prayer chains but we were literally on the prayer chains of churches we have nothing to do with,” marveled Bart.
“I believe there is a great possibility that we would not be here without prayer,” Sherry stated.
“I tell people that when you lie in the hospital that long you have a lot of time to think,” said Bart. “You can’t help but wonder why it happened to you. That’s a question we all want answered. But you can’t linger long in anger mode.
“We live in a broken, fallen world. There is death and disappointment and destruction that we all have to deal with. We question God: are you faithful? When things are bad, you rely on that faith. My faith has only grown stronger. Everything I’ve learned in my life about a relationship with God … it’s really true.
“It’s not been fun, and I wouldn’t want to do it again. But my take on God is that he is sovereign. He knew it would happen and he allowed it to happen. I don’t know why, but if I believe God is sovereign, my job is to be faithful.”
For Sherry, too, the accident and ensuing months have only strengthened her faith.
“I’m kind of an anxious person,” Sherry smiled. “But immediately after arriving at the hospital, I told people, ‘I’ve got peace.’ I don’t remember fear, even in the hospital. I had that peace. We have book knowledge about God, but now I have a deeper level of trust and know that our lives really are in God’s hands.”
Life is starting to get back to normal for Bart and Sherry, who lived in Worthington for eight years from 1996-2004 and grew up in the area. Bart, though he is still in pain, started back to work in January part time and now is back working full-time at his job as executive director of The Furniture Mission in Sioux Falls. Sherry is still unable to work, but she hopes she’ll be able to one day once she can get rid of her crutches. The $1.4 million worth of medical bills have all been covered by insurance.
“We keep getting better, keep healing. Everyone’s prayers are greatly appreciated — keep them coming!” they both requested.
“We can choose to be bitter and angry …” said Sherry.
“Or choose not to,” ended Bart.