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Nebraska farmer back at chores after cutting leg from auger

Nick Hytrek  |  Sioux City Journal

PENDER, Neb. (AP) - Catching up with Kurt Kaser was a lot easier when he had to use a walker.

Now that he's back on two feet again, good luck.

"I got elected in the last two or three weeks to take back the hog chores," the Pender farmer said with a chuckle before admitting that he had elected himself for the job.

He's not going to complain. He'd much rather be out and about, walking on two legs instead of being stuck inside his house while his damaged left leg healed.

Kaser gained notoriety in 2019 as the farmer who cut through flesh and muscle with his pocket knife to free his leg after it had become caught in a grain auger.

His new year begins with him back on his feet, adjusting to a second prosthetic leg as he goes about his daily chores.

Some days are better than others, depending on how much time he spends on his feet and climbing on and off of farm equipment.

"Sometimes it hurts real bad, sometimes it doesn't hurt much at all. Sometimes I don't even realize it," Kaser told the Sioux City Journal. "I wish it didn't have that numb feeling, but I guess that's just the way it is."

The 63-year-old farmer shrugs as he talks matter-of-factly about life since losing his leg below the knee. If not for his quick action on April 19, the story could have had a tragic ending.

A quick recap: While moving grain into a bin on his farm, Kaser's left foot became caught in a grain auger, and it began pulling him in. While struggling against the pull, Kaser saw the bone protruding from his leg and the empty joint where his foot had been attached. He pulled out his pocket knife and cut through his damaged muscles, tissue and nerves to free his leg, then dragged himself about 200 feet to his office to call his son Adam, a member of Pender's fire and rescue squad.

While recovering in a Lincoln, Nebraska, hospital, he was interviewed about his ordeal by an Omaha TV station. After the story aired on May 10, journalists from across the country and several countries called for interviews.

The reporters have stopped calling, Kaser said.

They've missed a heck of a recovery story.

Told after his accident that it would be at least six to eight months before it would be possible to fit him with a prosthetic leg, Kaser received his first one in only four months. With a few adjustments, he was back on his feet and walking with little need for therapy.

Daily tasks such as cooking dinner and doing dishes became much easier with his hands free, no longer needed to maneuver the walker he used in order to get around on one leg.

"It was great," Kaser said. "You could carry something from Point A to Point B instead of sliding everything around."

He'd already resumed working in his shop before receiving his prosthesis. Now with the artificial limb, he could take more of an active role in farming 1,500 acres, finishing 3,000 hogs and running a trucking company with Adam and the hired help.

He helped with harvest this fall, even running that same auger unloading corn into grain bins. There was no hesitation, he said, no mental hurdles to clear the first time the auger started rotating.

It's back to work as normal, or maybe it's more accurate to say work as usual.

"It will never feel normal," he said of his leg. "The biggest thing is you don't have the feeling of your toe pushing."

Because the ankle on the prosthesis doesn't have as much side-to-side movement as his other ankle, walking over uneven ground gives Kaser a little trouble. He walks with only a slight limp and his left knee bulges a little more under his jeans, otherwise you'd have a hard time telling he's had a traumatic injury.

He's currently breaking in his second prosthesis, received on Dec. 4, just in time for a trip to Germany to appear on a news show that documented his accident and recovery. A German TV crew visited the Kaser farm in the spring, taking photos and video. The show's producers flew him and his family to Germany, where he appeared live on television, sharing details about the incident.

Back from Germany, Kaser's back to work.

No more checkups with doctors. The only medical-related trips now are the periodic adjustments to his prosthesis so that it won't rub so much and make his leg sore.

The rubbing and soreness are annoying, but Kaser's learned to adjust.

"Under the circumstances, I don't have much choice," he said. "I have to live with it."