Local rancher makes quick recovery after cow encounter

Katherine Sears
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
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Wayne Martin, seated, and his wife Cherelee, right of Wayne, get a warm farewell from staff at The Rehabilitation Hospital of Montana after spending a week in intensive therapy to recover from injuries from an unfortunate encounter with a cow.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Ratcliff, The Rehabilitation Hospital of Montana

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Wayne Martin walks outside with his physical therapist Duane Verhasselt during his recovery at The Rehabiliation Hospital of Montana in Billings.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Ratcliff, The Rehabilitation Hospital of Montana

Sometimes the worst things happen when we least expect it, and often, when we’re in a hurry to get something done. This was the case for Wayne Martin, when he had an unexpected encounter with a cow during calving season.

Wayne considers himself “retired” but helps on the ranch north of Moore, which his son Jeff now operates.

While working to clean the calving shed and put down new straw, Wayne attempted to move a calf out of the area he was trying to clean. A lifelong rancher, he was aware of the possible consequences of moving the calf, but with mama cow out of sight, Wayne loaded the calf in a sled to quickly move so he could complete the task. At one point, he bent down to adjust the calf. That’s when the cow hit him head-on.

“The last thing I know, I didn’t know anything,” said Wayne. “I didn’t see her coming.”

The impact knocked him out and broke his glasses and hearing aids. He would later learn he broke his pelvis and several ribs during the small lapse in judgment.

“It’s my own fault, I don’t blame the cow particularly,” said Wayne. “I could have worked around it.”

He thinks the orange vest he had on that day wasn’t helpful either.

“The first few hours they’re very protective,” said Wayne. “You gotta back away.”

But, the incident still surprised the Martins.

“We have a small operation and most of the animals are gentle,” said Wayne’s wife, Cherelee.

Luckily, their son was out in the yard and was able to get the cow away without further injury.

The family took Wayne to Central Montana Medical Center in Lewistown, where they discovered the extent of his injuries and sent him on to Billings Clinic by ambulance, as it was too windy to go by helicopter.

During a week at Billings Clinic, doctors debated whether or not to do surgery on the broken pelvis.

“I couldn’t pick my leg up or even slide it across the bed,” said Wayne.

When the doctors eventually opted to let it heal on its own, Wayne was given a few options moving forward.

“He was too healthy to be in the hospital, but not well enough to be at home,” said Cherelee. “We could have come to the nursing home in Lewistown, but he wouldn’t have received the intensive care he needed.”  

That intensive care included occupational and physical therapy to heal his pelvis and ribs and help Wayne recover from a concussion he most likely suffered during the incident.

A second option was to move into a new rehabilitation facility in Billings, which is the only free standing inpatient rehab hospital in Montana. They could provide the intensive therapy services Wayne needed.

“We decided to give that a shot,” said Cherelee.  

This allowed Wayne to stay in Montana and make a fairly quick recovery, considering the extent of his injuries.

“A year or two years ago, he wouldn’t have received the care or he would have been transferred out of state,” said Lynn Ratcliff of The Rehabilitation Hospital of Montana in Billings.

Wayne then spent a week undergoing intensive therapy at least three hours per day.

“I couldn’t get out of bed by myself when I got there,” said Wayne. “My left side was worse. But, I could do it all after therapy – get up all by myself and walk around my room.”

The Martins considered it a “24- hour” rehab facility.

“Once they figured you could move, they enticed you to keep going,” said Martin.

The hospital incorporated exercises Wayne was likely to do every day, such as stairs and getting in and out of a vehicle.

“His therapist had him get in and out of our car before we left,” said Cherelee. “They told us it’s important to practice the things you’re going to be doing when you get home.”

The hospital also works to educate family members to aid in recovery.

“Family training is also a large focus here,” said Syndie Bahl, Director of Therapy Services. “Family training allows us to teach the family safe techniques to allow for a successful discharge home.”

Wayne was quickly able to continue treatment closer to home, thanks to the intense therapy.
“He had just an incredible, amazing recovery,” said Ratcliff.

The rehab hospital helped Wayne transition to continue his recovery in Lewistown at Bighorn Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine, where he continues to work on strength, balance and range of motion.

“I’ve been working with him a lot on range of motion on his hip and balance,” said Lance Reesor, Wayne’s therapist at Bighorn Physical Therapy.

His goal is to help Wayne get back to as normal of routine as possible, which includes a lot of physical activity for ranchers.

“We work on getting out of the walker – that’s a huge thing for ranchers, so they don’t have to lug that around,” said Reesor. “And strength and balance to get up into the tractor.”

Reesor said he sees the results of a lot of cow incidents, but they most often cause bruises and sore muscles.

“Not often broken pelvises, but we definitely do see it,” said Reesor.

Bighorn also sees many patients who have suffered injury in horse, four-wheeler and lifting-related accidents.

“Around here, agriculture is the biggest industry so that’s a lot of what we see – people who work on ranches,” said Reesor.

He pointed out there’s no good time for ranchers to get hurt, but it’s important to take time to recover from an injury.

“There’s never a good time to have surgery or help an injury,” said Reesor. “We try to help people get back to normal quickly. We set them up with programs so they can keep doing it [at home.]”

Seven weeks after his injury, Wayne is making big strides in his recovery.

“I think his future’s bright,” said Reesor.

The Martins are grateful for the care Wayne received throughout the whole process, from Lewistown to Billings, and back.

“They jumped in with four feet and 48 hands,” said Cherelee.

“It was definitely an experience,” said Wayne, “But I wouldn’t want to go through it again.”