Nebraska farmer recounts sawing off his leg with a pocket knife to save his own life

Posted at 10:04 AM, May 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-15 11:16:29-04

A Nebraska farmer says he's fortunate to be alive after his leg got stuck in a grain auger dealing him a life or death decision: Cut off his limb or die.

"I didn't have no other choice," Kurt Kaser, a 63-year-old grain and hog farmer in Pender, Nebraska, told ABC News on Tuesday.

Kaser said he's had other close calls on the farm, but nothing like what happened to him in April.

He said he was working alone, transferring a load of grain into a bin with a mobile grain auger, when he was suddenly forced to think fast on how to save his own life.

He said back in the winter the ground had frozen on his farm and he had to jury-rig the auger to make it fit under a bin by cutting away part of a safety screen covering the auger's hopper.

"I'm kind of disappointed in myself that I didn't think of fixing that thing, or whatever. But that's why they call it accidents I guess," Kaser told ABC News.

On April 26, he was using the same auger to fill a bin with grain and forgot that part of the screen covering the hopper was still missing.

"I stepped right in the damn thing. It grabbed ahold of me," he said. "I can remember seeing it start and I go, 'This ain't good,'" Kaser said. "And then when my foot was in there banging around, I was trying to hold my leg, pulling it out, and I said, 'This is not good.'"

There was no one around to hear him yell for help, and making matters worse, he couldn't find his cell phone.

"I don't know if I had it with me, if it fell in the auger and went in the bin. I don't know. But nobody has been able to find it," Kaser said of the phone.

He said the auger, which resembles a large drill bit, kept pulling on his leg and tearing away the skin, tissue and muscle until he could see the bone protruding from his lower left leg.

"I felt it try to grab me again," he said. "I about gave up and said, 'Whatever happens happens. If it sucks me in all the way, it's over with.' But then, all at once, I thought of my pocket knife."

Not knowing when someone would arrive to help, and fearing he would pass out, a desperate Kaser did the unthinkable. He managed to retrieve his pocket knife, which he described as having a 3-to-4-inch blade.

"I dang near dropped it in the auger," he said.

I about gave up and said, 'Whatever happens happens. If it sucks me in all the way, it's over with.' But then, all at once, I thought of my pocket knife.

But when he got a good grip on the knife, he said he started sawing his leg about eight inches below his knee.

"Finally it let go and I got out," he said.

He said he doesn't remember experiencing much pain and didn't notice a lot of blood.

"Adrenaline kicked in so much that I don't know if it hurt or not," he said.

But once freed from the piece of farm equipment, Kaser said he was confronted with a new problem: How to get to the nearest working phone, which was in a nearby shed he uses as an office.

"I had to Army crawl on my hands and knee and elbows, and kind of drug my back," he said. "It was about 150 to 200 feet on rock and gravel and stuff and [I] got to a phone to call."

He said he contacted one of his sons who relayed the emergency to 911. A medical helicopter flew Kaser to a trauma center in Lincoln, about 90 miles away, where he underwent surgery on his leg.

"I never lost consciousness until they put me out in Lincoln when they started operating on me. I sat up in the chopper and watched all the way to Lincoln," Kaser said.

He said it's not the first time he's gotten his leg stuck in an auger, explaining that a few years ago one injured his right leg.

"It never broke my leg or took my leg, but it chewed a bunch of muscle and stuff out of it. I had that redone," he said.

Following his latest mishap, Kaser spent three weeks undergoing rehabilitation at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital-Lincoln Campus. He finally went home on Friday and is waiting to be fitted with a prosthetic limb, he said.

He said that while undergoing rehab, he saw other patients in much worse shape than him.

"I mean, they're in wheelchairs. They're not getting out of them. It could always be worse," he said. "I get a chance to be pretty close to normal. They don't and I feel sorry for them."