Neil “Moose” Kinder remembers grabbing his cellphone to answer his wife’s call shortly after colliding with three trees along a rural stretch of road near Merrillan, Wis. He remembers that he didn’t feel any pain, despite the cab of his pickup being crushed in around him after rolling over into a ditch. He remembers hearing birds settling back into those trees he disturbed.
But in a way, Kinder was lucky. He was remembering. He was still alive.
The day life changed
Kinder, 30, recalled that fateful day to a room of first responders, firefighters and medical personnel during Gundersen Health System’s Advances in Trauma Care symposium last week. He did so seated next to the nurse who cared for him during his hospital stay, as well as the flight crew of GundersenAIR that transported him to La Crosse before it was too late.
Kinder was driving down that road on a late October evening in 2021 when he lost control of his vehicle and left the road, only coming to rest after striking the trees.
“After I impacted, I laid there and realized that it did not look good,” he said, his voicing cracking. “I was trying to figure out what exactly I was going to do.”
That’s when his wife Ashley – who worried about Kinder’s safety on those roads after dark – called. He answered his blood-covered phone and told her what had happened.
“I remember the words that I said. I said, ‘Call 911. I’m in a ditch and I’m dying,’” he said.
Eventually, Kinder was transported by helicopter to La Crosse, and shortly after, Ashley and his parents arrived. He saw his mom, and as reality of the situation set in, he told her he was probably going to lose his leg. Then, in a cracking voice, his dad spoke.
“He said, ‘Neil, it’s already gone.’”
Kinder hadn’t realized that to extract him from his vehicle, his left leg had to be amputated above the knee at the scene.
“This made me understand mentally that it was gone,” he said. “There was no trying and failing to keep the leg and all the complications that go along with it.”
But instead of despair, Kinder felt something else.
“I just felt blessed to be alive for my family, no matter what the outcome was going to be,” he said. “I was given another chance to live.”
The road to healing - physically and emotionally
Kinder was about to begin the most grueling journey of his life, saturated with surgeries to repair the dozens of fractures he sustained. He was filled with staples, plates and screws, and finally, he was fitted for a prosthetic leg. Months of physical therapy and learning to walk again followed.
“The start of fittings was a challenge,” he said. “Not having any strength or balance in my core, lower back and hips, it was a huge challenge to overcome even trying to fit the prosthetic. … And it hurt. The tip of the stump just hurt.”
During his presentation, Kinder showed the group gathered a photo of his amputated limb that was taken by Shannon Brozak, a PA in Gundersen’s general surgery department. He shared it not for the shock value, but because of the value he places on that photo. It’s all he has left of the tattoo that was on the leg – a tire track with his daughter’s name beneath it.
“My oldest had a brush with death when she was 16 months old,” he said. “She was run over, and that was the tread pattern that ran her over.”
Kinder’s still in pain to this day, using medication to ease it just a bit. At its height, he was taking more than 50 pills a day. His parents altered the front half of their house to accommodate his needs. He still sleeps in a hospital bed to be as comfortable as possible. His mother has been a constant caretaker.
Despite those hardships, he’s thankful. The gratitude extends not only to his family, but to those who were on the scene that day who saved his life, and to those who assist in his recovery.
“I’d like to give a big thank you to the guys who took care of me, and the guys who are still taking care of me,” Kinder said. “You are just as important in the process as the support that I have at home. This is the Moose family. Thank you all.”
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