Avera Medical Minute: Crash survivor shares rehab journey

Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 10:14 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Harvest season is fast approaching, which means more Ag equipment and heavy machinery will be on the roads and it’s important that drivers take caution.

One Claremont, South Dakota man is now advocating for that safety warning after an experience he went through that almost cost him his life.

The last month of Ron Wegleitner’s life has been anything but easy. “I tell you what,” he said. “The pain was ungodly.”

On August 16th, Ron was involved in a serious accident.

He was helping his son move dirt, taking his payloader about a quarter mile down Highway 37. “We had our flashers on and everything. And I was ready to turn, and I look up into the mirror I could see my son behind me and the road was clear. When I turned, the last I remember was I woke up here in Sioux Falls,” said Wegleitner. His tractor was struck by a semi.

His injuries were extensive. “Ribs busted, lung punctured, my spine was, they call it ‘microburst’ in a couple spots, back was busted up,” he said.

Ron says that fateful day could have been a lot worse if it weren’t for someone he now considers his guardian angel.

“I got so lucky. Right behind us, there was a gal about a minute behind. By the time my son got the payloader shut off this lady came out, she was an EMT, with all her gear I think that was my guardian angel because I probably I wouldn’t be here without her,” he said.

His other guardian angels include those at Avera who helped him get through physical therapy.

“The care down here is just phenomenal. The therapists have just been phenomenal pushing me to do everything I need to do to get back to where I need to be. It’s just a blessing,” said Wegleitner.

Ron has officially completed his physical therapy and was able to ring a ceremonial bell at Avera to celebrate that.

“To ring that bell, to finish that therapy, just to know I was going to go home, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Ron has a lot to show for what he’s been through, including some new scars and lingering aches and pains. For those, he is lucky.

“That fracture could have had devastating effects,” said Dr. Thomas Ripperda, a rehabilitation physician at Avera Medical Group. “Could have affected his spinal cord, could have affected movement of his chest and legs. The cervical spine fractures could have left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. So absolutely amazing that he’s been able to recover and heal from the injuries and extremely fortunate that it wasn’t more severe than it was.”

Ron is also taking away from this experience several lessons, memories, and a new mission: to urge those traveling on the state’s highways to watch out.

“I am just trying to get all the people on the highway, whenever they come on to ag equipment or construction equipment or anything, to slow down,” he said. So if it can just save one life it will be worth it. So yeah if they could just slow down and use their precautions.

Ron is doing what he can to thank all those at Avera that have helped him rehab and heal.

He still has one big ‘thank you’ left to give. Ron is now working to track down the woman that helped him the day of the crash. “I really got to get ahold of that angel because, without her, I don’t know if I’d be here,” he said.