This Insane Lawn Mower Accident Will Leave You in Tears
It was a typical afternoon in late September for David Castleberry. He needed to mow the lawn after work, so he sent 5 year-old Brett inside the house. David was mowing under the plastic playhouse with the lawn tractor as he usually did when he realized something was wrong….
“I pushed the playhouse to where I hadn’t mowed yet,” David recalls, “And the mower tried to die. And I knew that by me pushing it—that it shouldn’t have bogged the mower down like that. I looked down all I seen out from under the mower was Spongebob crocs. His whole body was between the wheels and the deck. I jumped off the mower, and I picked up the mower and just chunked the mower off of him. I looked down and I could see that there was no skin between his wrist and his elbow on either arm. The skin was just wadded up on both sides. And I could see his left hand hanging; it was cut almost in half or more. I picked him up and I carried him across the yard and there was a trail all the way, the sidewalk was soaked with blood, the steps, the porch. I got him to the house and I thought, “I need some help.””
David called 911 on his cell phone and ran to his neighbors, Tim and Janice Helms, for help.
“When I was running across the driveway, he stood up on that porch, and was hanging on to that top rail hollering, “Daddy, it hurts,”” David says.
Tim and Janice came immediately but they weren’t prepared for what they saw.
“The first thing I saw was Brett’s face, which was just covered with dirt, mud, and so it just took a second to try to comprehend what’s wrong with him,” Janice says, “And when I looked down, that’s when I saw his arms. It looked like nothing was left. It just – it was horrendous, like what you would see in a horror movie.”
Brett’s dad had second-degree burns from touching the muffler when lifting the mower off of Brett, but that wasn’t what hurt him most.
“At one point he was, you know, saying, “I killed my son,” Janice recalls, “And that’s where I was saying, “No, he’s alive, he’s alive. Worst case scenario, David,” I said, “if he loses his arms, you’ve got your son still.”
Tim remembers Brett’s injuries as well. “His wrist was turned around backwards like this, instead of like this, you know? So it was just kinda flopping,” says Tim. “So I just covered him up, and we laid on the porch and tried to keep him calm the best I could, which he was a trooper there. And as we were waiting for the ambulance Brett just kept asking, “How’s my dad? My dad’s really hurt,” you know? He kept just trying to look at his dad. And he was worried about his dad.”
Meanwhile, Janice tried to keep David calm. David’s next call was to his wife, Pam.
“He goes, “I just ran Brett over with the mower,”” Pam recalls. “You don’t see people, you don’t see anything, I mean, your whole world just stops.”
While on her way to the hospital, Pam sent out a call to prayer. “I posted on Facebook, “Please pray for Brett, he’s been in a horrible accident,”” says Pam, “And so I got hundreds of responses back, and everybody posted it on their Facebook wall, you know, please pray for Brett, and it just spread, literally, like wildfire.”
As they waited for the ambulance, Tim and Janice noticed something unusual.
“This is a dead end road, no one comes on this road,” Janice says, “There’s just – there’s no one out here. So at the scene of the accident…”
“I noticed people gathering across the street,” Tim adds, “There was quite a few.”
“And I was thinking, where’d they all come from?” Janice asks.
“And as the ambulance finally got there and took Brett away, I remember looking back up and there was no more people out there,” says Tim.
Brett was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital. The medical team stabilized him and took x-rays.
“I do know he had two broke wrists. The first responder told us that,” David recalls, “But when he got to St. Joe and they did full body x-rays, there was no sign of broke wrists.”
Pam remembers seeing Brett at that time. “The first time I looked at Brett he opened his eyes and he said, “My arms are broken.” And I said, your arms are broken? And he said, “Yeah, I seen the bones, they’re broken, I’m going to get cactuses.” And so the casts – he called them cactuses.”
Brett was transferred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for emergency surgery. Doctors requested permission to amputate Brett’s arms up to the elbows, but when it was over…
“He told us then that he didn’t have to amputate anything, told us he really didn’t know how he saved what he did,” David says, “And my response to that was that he was guided by nail-scarred hands. Because I don’t think – I don’t think under normal circumstances they would have saved that much of someone that was cut that bad.”
Brett was taken to intensive care and struggled to recover from the trauma. All anyone could do was pray.
“He was shaking real bad and they told us it was his nerves causing it. And they brought in a bigger bed and told me to lay down by him,” says David, “We’re laying there in bed”
“And he said, “Daddy, get up” so I’m like, “Why?” says Pam.
David continues, “And Brett said, “Jesus wants to lay down.”
“And it just brought like a huge peace that you knew that, okay, God didn’t send angels, he sent Jesus to protect him,” adds Pam.
Brett stabilized, but doctors told the Castleberrys their son would need extensive surgeries and would be in the hospital for at least a month. He had over a dozen broken bones, a severed artery and ulnar nerve along with massive tissue loss. Dr. Teresa Wyrick recalls taking over Brett’s case at that time.
“The thing that I think of that’s the most significant was the damage that involved the muscles and tendons to his arms. He had muscles that bend the fingers and that extend the fingers or straighten the fingers that were completely cut--and so much so that they were not actually repairable. And so my thought long-term for him was that I would have to take muscles or tendons from other parts of his body and move them into his arms to try to make things work,” says Dr. Wyrick.
Pam posted regular updates on email and Facebook asking everyone for prayer. Brett’s progress exceeded everyone’s expectations, including his doctors’.
Pam remembers instance in particular. “During one of their surgeries, she’d come out afterward and she’s like, “I don’t know what y’all are doing, but keep it up, cause it’s working.” And it – to us, that meant keep up the praying because it’s working.”
“They told us on that Friday when we went in on September 25th, to plan on spending 30 days, minimum, and 12 days later we rode him out to the car,” says David.
Over the next few months, Brett had more reconstructive surgeries and skin grafts. However, doctors weren’t sure if his arms would ever be able to function.
“I remember getting the cast off and looking down at his arms and saying, “Can you open your fingers?” Thinking, he shouldn’t be able to do that. And he did,” says Dr. Wyrick. “And then saying, “Okay, now bend your fingers.” And him making nearly a full fist. And I remember sort of shaking my head and blinking and saying, “Do that again; bend your fingers.” Thinking I know that the muscles were cut that should be able to do this. So how is he doing this?
Mechanically, it shouldn’t have worked. The way your fingers bend is you have a muscle in your forearm, and it’s attached to a tendon, which sort-of functions like a rope. And the rope is attached to the bone in the finger. And so the way it works is the muscle fires, and it’s the motor; it sort of pulls on the rope, which is attached to the finger, which should bend the finger. So you can imagine if that muscle is not connected to the rope, it shouldn’t work, right? It shouldn’t be able to pull on it. But it did, it worked, I don’t know how it worked, but it was—it was amazing. Based on my medical experience, and knowing that Brett can do things that he shouldn’t be able to do, I would consider that a miraculous recovery.”
David and Pam continue to marvel at how their son even survived the accident.
“They found chunks of his bone in the yard,” says Pam. “And so when they put those bones back together in his arms, they shouldn’t have went together, and but on the x-rays, there’s no missing bone. They were basically a clean break that went back together. But yet there was chunks of bone in my yard, so where did they come from?”
“They told us his fingers would never grow on the right hand because of the growth plates,” Pam adds. “Well, once I posted that out there on Facebook and people started praying you know, his finger, his index finger has grown a quarter of an inch. His (ulnar) nerve was severed in the arm, in the left arm. We went back for checkups and she started checking him and she started noticing he had nerve sensation building in his arm. And so every time we go back, that’s what we look forward to is how much more nerve sensation has he gained.”
Brett was matter-of–fact about the recovery process—even about getting skin grafts on his arms—perhaps because God told him a few things…
“That he’s gonna put new skin over my arms. That he was gonna protect me. He makes me feel like I have someone that’s always with me,” says Brett.
“Brett taught us a lot about how to get over it cause he refused to cover them, he refused to hide ‘em, he refused not to answer questions,” says Pam.
Brett’s recovery included a confrontation with the mower as soon as he got home from the hospital.
“He had his mind made up that he was going to recover and he was going to do everything that he could to make life as it was before the accident,” says David.
Today, Brett is a normal, energetic boy and his favorite thing to do is spend time with his dad …
“I play football with him. I like to ride my bike; build stuff; play with my tools,” Brett says. “I like to play baseball with him. I can catch a ball on the ground; I can try to catch one in the air.”
The Castleberry’s have learned a lot about God through their experience, but the main thing they’ve learned is to trust that God will bring you through.
“God may not keep something from happening, but he can bring you through whatever happens,” David says.
“It’s really built faith, you know, the childlike faith, I see that now,” Pam adds. “Cause a lot of times I can go to Brett and say, “Mom’s having a hard day.” And he’ll say, “Well, you just need to pray about it, Mom. Or you just need to do ‘whatever’.” And you know, it’s – that’s all you need is that childlike faith.”