'It can happen any time': After his fall, bow hunter has safety message
CLARA CITY, Minn. -- It's not yet daylight, but there's a definite bounce in Kevin Hood's step, like a football player eager to get on the field.
It's Sept. 14, the opening of Minnesota's deer archery season.
"I felt the same excitement I did 27 years ago," Hood said of the years he has been a bow hunter.
Hood, 53, of Clara City, had dropped his son Sam off at a deer stand and was now walking to his own.
He and his wife, Diana, had been to the stand northeast of New London the previous day and all was in order. He tied his bow to the rope dangling from the stand so that he could safely haul it up once he's in place.
Then he started climbing, placing one foot after another in the peg-like steps that were screwed in the tree. He's now 16 feet above the ground and about to grab for his stand, a pencil-sized flashlight clenched by his teeth his only source of light.
"I don't remember if I missed the tree peg or if I hit a branch. I remember all of a sudden I went down," Hood said.
One in three hunters who use elevated stands will suffer a significant fall during their hunting career, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Hood had thought about what he would do if it happened to him; how he would try to roll or maneuver to minimize the harm.
The reality: "I never even had time to think about it," Hood said of the fall.
A 16-foot fall literally takes a second, by which time the body has accelerated to more than 20 mph.
He came to and it was still dark. "I knew I was hurt, but I didn't feel any pain so I wasn't scared," Hood said.
He looked over to his right hand, saw it twisted upside down, couldn't move it and passed out like a boxer KO'd in the ring.
Hood came to, this time in pain and struggling to breathe.
His right lung had been punctured and was now collapsed.
His right elbow and arm were shattered with four fractures including an open one.
He had three fractured ribs, a fractured pelvis and a kidney was lacerated.
Hood used his left arm to pull his right arm over his chest, dug his feet into the ground and rolled enough so he could take gasping, panting breaths.
With his left arm, he grabbed the cellphone in his pocket. He called Diana at home, stopping the call as it went to voicemail.
He punched out a text to his son Sam: "Help."
"I thought I was going to die. I thought I'd never see my wife again," Hood said.
There were tears, thoughts of his children and a whispered prayer.
But what very probably saved his life was the decision to call 911.
Hood said a Kandiyohi County dispatcher kept him from lapsing into unconsciousness and helped him control the panic that seized him as he gasped for breath.
He heard the sirens first, then Sam.
"Dad, Dad," Sam yelled as he and rescuers with the New London Ambulance crashed through the woods. His uncle and a cousin were there too, all to help as a body board was slid under him.
He remembers the hurried trip to Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar and his pleas for pain medication. His blood pressure had fallen to 60 over 40, dangerously close to where he could have slipped into a coma. A helicopter ride to the Hennepin County Medical Center followed.
A full month followed before he would leave the hospital.
The surgeon who performed three operations on his right arm told him he had once been a farmer and that was the assurance Hood needed most. "Only a farmer could figure out how to put that mess back together," Diana said he told her.
Hood spent the last half of his hospital time in Granite Falls, where he could continue therapy while closer to home. He returned to HCMC this week to undergo yet another surgery on the arm. He said he can't say enough about the care he received at both facilities.
Hood is on leave from his job with a State Operated Services facility for the chemically dependent.
He has nightmares in which he replays the whole ordeal. The fall, the phone call home and the shock of seeing his shattered elbow are experienced over and over.
Sometimes, the nightmare comes in slow motion. He's falling.
"Now I have a fear of falling," Hood said.
And yet, one week after the fall Hood had applied for a crossbow permit, so that he can return to his passion when physically able.
That's not likely to happen this autumn, he knows. His hope for the upcoming deer firearm season is merely to be in the pickup truck while his sons are in the woods. "I'll go out there to watch, just to be with the guys," Hood said.
He has one other wish.
"Tell all the other bow hunters to never take it for granted, to always be on your toes and ready because it can happen any time. Always be ready," Hood said.
Hood said to wear a full body harness whenever hunting in a tree stand. Connect the harness to a safety line while climbing to and from an elevated stand. Most falls occur as hunters are climbing to and from their stands.
Diana said her husband has a long road ahead to recovery. A benefit event will be scheduled in the near future. A fund to help with medical expenses and lost wages has been set up at: Bremer Bank, Kevin Hood Benefit Fund, 500 Willmar Ave., Willmar, MN. 56201.