Gary Buxengard of rural Spring Grove holding his grandson, Gavin Peter, that was born on the day he had surgery to repair his broken neck that nearly left him paralyzed.
Gary Buxengard of rural Spring Grove holding his grandson, Gavin Peter, that was born on the day he had surgery to repair his broken neck that nearly left him paralyzed.
It was a double blessing for the Buxengard family of rural Spring Grove this Thanksgiving season. One life was just beginning; another life being renewed following more than four hours of emergency surgery - both on the same day in the same building.

Gavin Roger Peter will always have a novel birth date, born on the evening of Oct. 11 (10-11-12). However, earlier (about 2 a.m.) that same calendar day, his maternal grandfather, Gary Buxengard, had come out of emergency surgery to repair a broken neck at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse, Wis. Gavin was born to Tamitha (Buxengard) and Shawn Peter of rural Mabel.

Gary's remarkable story

"I was very fortunate," said Buxengard. "I am very thankful."

His wife, Jan Lee Buxengard, said the family had previously been on the giving end during trying times, but now on the receiving end, fully realize how gratifying it is to receive a sincere outpouring of concern from so many people. "We live in a wonderful community."

They noted how many people visited, and some even offered to help out around the farm while Gary spends a couple of months in a neck brace.

The nearly disastrous mishap came while he and Donnie Ingvalson, two members of the Wilmington Lutheran Church Cemetery Association Board, were tearing off the old roof on the storage building at the Old Cemetery on County Road 27 on Oct. 10.

Buxengard had ascended onto the roof using a tractor loader bucket. About 2:45 p.m., he slipped off the roof and according to Ingvalson hit the side of the bucket before landing on the ground on his shoulders and head.

"I didn't think I was hurt that bad," said Buxengard who recalled having fallen before and suffering a few bruises. But then again, he had not fallen off a roof before.

Buxengard, a retired carpenter, said he had been stranded on rooftops before - once enduring some rain after a ladder blew down. He had not fallen off a roof previously, but had fallen along with a ladder he was climbing. He had not been injured enough to require surgery since a childhood farm accident.

This last injury was far more critical than he imagined. He had some pain in his neck and shoulders, but most uncomfortable was the ride while strapped to a board in the ambulance on the way to Gundersen Medical Center in La Crosse.

Meanwhile, Ingvalson had contacted Jan Lee, who with Gary's mother, Winnie Buxengard, had driven to the hospital emergency room.

After diagnostic procedures, Gary entered surgery about 9:30 p.m.

Jan Lee said the surgeon used the word "kinked" to described Gary's spinal cord (spinal nerves). One vertebra (C5) was broken. Two other vertebrae (C1 and C2) were cracked.

Buxengard's spine, now doubly reinforced with metal, is more stable than ever. There were actually two surgeries.

First, entering from the front of the neck, a metal plate was attached to the front of the injured vertebrae. Then from the back, rods were inserted to connect two vertebrae.

He was assured, however, that his neck will not set off the screening machines at airports

The doctor was pleased after the one-month checkup x-rays. Life for a while is altered, but certainly much better than what could have been. Buxengard will continue to wear the neck brace for a few more weeks.

Gundersen Lutheran neurosurgeon, Dr. Edison P. McDaniels, told Buxengard that surviving this injury involves some luck as well as surgical expertise.

Last week at his most recent checkup, Buxengard said the surgeon was more specific telling him that only 10 percent or fewer of the people who suffer this type of spinal injury come through it short of death or living thereafter as a quadriplegic, that is paralysis of both arms and legs.

Some physical activity is limited, but Buxengard is now back to many of his favorite weekly pursuits such as calling bingo at the Spring Grove Legion and barbershop practice.

He was also able to honor previous commitments as an election judge and to conduct a Sunday morning worship service while the pastor was on vacation.

The birth said Jan Lee "took away a little tension and stress. (We) could focus a little differently. It was a double blessing."

In fact, before leaving the hospital on Saturday, Buxengard was able to visit half-day-old grandson, Gavin, on Friday.

During this Thanksgiving season, the Buxengard family is indeed thankful - for a new grandchild and what appears to be a satisfying recovery.

Editor's note: Ironically, the author of this article, a long-time friend of the Buxengards, has also survived a similar broken neck injury.

S. Lee Epps was involved in a car accident in the fall of 1998 in Tulsa, Okla., which resulted in a broken neck that almost paralyzed him.

Epps explained that he had one surgery in Tulsa and a second one in La Crosse to stabilize his injury, both of which were very similar to Buxengard's.

"I felt unlucky that it happened but you also feel so fortunate to be alive and not paralyzed or in worse shape.

"My doctor couldn't understand why I wasn't paralyzed. It was a miracle I am thankful for everyday."