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After Tractor Rollover, Farmer Is Walking Again

​​​​​​​​​​​Ryan Quarne was fortunate that a badly fractured pelvis was all he suffered in a horrendous tractor rollover. He’s equally lucky that David Polga​, M.D.​, was ready and waiting for him at Marshfield Clinic Marshfield Center. 

Ryan Quarne, Blair, Wisconsin Ryan Quarne, Blair, Wisconsin

Six months after the incident, he was walking unassisted and doing farm work.

Quarne, of Blair, Wisconsin, was pinned under a seven-ton tractor on his family’s farm in Trempealeau County in western Wisconsin. He could have been killed instantly, or paralyzed, if the tractor had overturned just a bit differently or if his grandfather had not been following him with a Bobcat skid steer. Grandpa used the Bobcat to lift the John Deere 4440 tractor off Quarne just long enough to pull him out so he could breathe.

“We were moving some round hay bales and I took the wrong angle on a hill,” said Quarne, who at age 20 has already operated tractors for 10 years. “We were heading downhill, and the weight of the bales pushed down against the tractor. I just remember one bounce and I was sitting in mid-air hanging onto the steering wheel. The next thing I know, I’m lying on the ground in a lot of pain with the tractor alongside me. Grandpa told me I wasn’t breathing when he pulled me out.”

Quarne was airlifted to a medical center in La Crosse, which ordinarily could have handled his case. But that center’s two orthopedic trauma surgeons were both at a major conference in Texas, and unavailable. Dr. Polga, an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Marshfield Clinic, had canceled his plans to attend the conference and agreed to take Quarne’s case.

X-rays and CT scans showed that Quarne had a bad fracture involving both sides of his pelvis, the ring-like structure of bones at the lower end of the trunk. The pelvis is held together by connective tissues, or ligaments, which in this case were severely damaged by the trauma.

“It was a pretty bad fracture that was unstable,” said Dr. Polga, who noted that the patient was fortunate not to have other potentially fatal complications such as head, lung or spinal cord injuries.

Four days after the October 10, 2011, accident, Dr. Polga performed an extensive surgery on Quarne at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield. Working under X-ray guidance, the surgeon worked delicately between two large nerves to place a number of plates and screws into Quarne’s pelvis to stabilize it so it could heal properly. Ten days after the accident, he was back home.

“Everybody there was exceptional,” Quarne said of the Marshfield medical staff who attended to him. “The doctor was very good, and the surgery went fine.” At a follow-up visit in February, Dr. Polga gave Quarne the go-ahead to start walking and putting weight back on the pelvis. He was back working on the farm by mid-March.

“At first it was difficult, but it’s gotten a lot better since then. I can walk pretty well, and I guess I have more tolerance for pain,” he said. “Looking back on it all, it was a life-changer. It brings things into perspective, and you can see how it doesn’t take much for something to go wrong. I also think I’ve got a closer relationship now with my family and friends.”

From Dr. Polga’s perspective, Quarne is fortunate that times have changed. “In the old days, they would have had him in traction and on bed rest for a few months,” he said. “Without surgery to correct the deformity and stabilize it, he might not have ever walked again.”​

 Making farms safer

Agriculture is one of the nation’s most hazardous industries, and tractor rollovers are the No. 1 cause of farm-related deaths. Approximately five rollover deaths occur each year in Wisconsin.

Roll bars and seatbelts are 99 percent effective in preventing rollover deaths, researchers say. Tractors manufactured in the United States before 1985 were not required to have rollover protection. Forty percent of tractors in operation lack this life-saving feature.

Farmers can retrofit their tractors with a rollover protective structure (ROPS). The National Farm Medicine Center at Marshfield Clinic developed an online ROPS guide which has since been updated by the University of Kentucky. The guide allows farmers to search for ROPS by make and model of tractor.

Marshfield Clinic has long cared for farmers, their families and employees. The National Farm Medicine Center, established in 1981, conducts research, outreach, education and safety consulting. The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety was created within the Farm Center in 1997. Since then, injury rates among youth on U.S. farms have decreased nearly 60 percent.

Free resources are available by visiting the National Farm Medicine Center or by contacting the Farm Center, 1-800-662-6900,​