On Saturday, April 10, lifelong Box Butte County resident Chance Smith was finishing up a tree removal job for the family business, West Pine Tree Farm. Everything was going smooth when Smith tripped over a tree root and just above his ankle was caught in a stump grinder.
The trauma to his leg needed immediate surgery so he was flown to Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff. The medical staff was able to stabilize his injury and close the wound. He remained in the hospital under close watch for infection and to control the pain. He suffered significant loss of tendons and bone and was not out of the woods yet. He would require further surgery and it was unknown if his leg could be saved.
Chance and his wife, Hannah, have three young daughters: River, Haven, and Mesa. He is the owner and operator of Last Chance Seamless Gutters and helps his parents, Bill and Deb, with the tree farm.
Three days after the accident, the surgeons opened the wound back up to clean out dead skin and debris. Smith was fairly certain that the doctors would end up having to amputate a portion of his leg.
“They were very hopeful of what they saw but the end of the woods is way out there,” Smith said. “I have a tendon that is completely missing that picks my foot up and down and I have no ankle bone whatsoever. It’s completely gone.”
Chance and Hannah asked for prayers from the community and were overwhelmed with the response from friends and family. Prayers and well wishes came rushing in as well as fundraisers and meal trains set up for his family.
“I have more people than I ever knew behind me,” Smith said. “My mind is good, my health is good, my heart is good, my leg is not.”
Five days after the accident, he was able to use a walker for the first time and was moved out of the intensive care unit.
“I was able to get a shower, which was very humbling and will change your attitude in a heartbeat,” Smith said with a smile.
Smith turned this traumatic accident into an opportunity to help others.
“I have the mentality and mindset to uplift others,” he said. “I’ve had a blanket of faith come over me and I feel like I’m actually a different person. I’m a better man lying in this hospital bed than I was going to work that day.”
Seven days after the accident a wound vac was put on the incision to fight infection and the physical therapy team helped Smith learn to walk with crutches.
Ten days after the accident, he was still very optimistic and in good spirits. He got the good news that he would be going home.
Smith met with a specialist from Denver to get an opinion on his leg.
“Ultimately, it comes down to I have a lot of good feeling in my foot but the tendons and the nerves are missing,” Smith said. “I asked him for some real honesty in which way he would go or what his professional opinion was. He said ‘Amputation’.”
The specialist advised him to amputate the leg because even after the countless surgeries it will require, there’s no guarantee it will fix his leg and he will always be restricted on what he can do. He is scheduled for an amputation on May 6. Until then they are trying to keep the infection down and keep him comfortable.
“On May 6, I’m going to walk in with a leg and walk out without one,” Smith said. “I don’t know what the recovery process for that is. I don’t know when I’ll get my first prosthetic. It’s all going to be a new challenge. I’ll have to learn how to walk all over again, how to shower, how to stand there and do dishes at the sink.”
He hopes what he has learned from his accident can inspire others.
“Life is good, you just have to slow down and listen sometimes,” Smith said. “So don’t ever get too busy to actually see the good things that God does in this world because they happen every minute of every day.”
Nearly 70% of amputations are due to trauma involving the upper limbs. About 2 million individuals in the U.S. are living with a loss of a limb, with more than 185,000 amputations performed each year, according to the National Limb Loss Information Center. That means that 300 to 500 amputations are performed every day.
As Smith awaits a surgery that will change his life forever and he travels the road to recovery, the medical bills will continue to roll in. The national average for an emergency helicopter ride alone is about $40,000 plus the cost of multiple surgeries and two hospital stays.
A Go Fund Me account has been set up for Chance Smith. Go to gofund.me/5f37e997 or search Chance Smith’s Medical Expense Fund on Go Fund Me. Follow Smith’s progress on his Youtube page "Making it out West."