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Life-changing barn loft accident yields life-changing times with God

SANDY HOOK, Mo. (BP)–Dave Bennett never expected that a moment of frustration and anger in a barn loft would change his life so dramatically, costing cost his hip and his health.
But the Missouri Baptist Convention evangelism director said the resulting experience has brought him closer to God and made him more sensitive to the heartaches and needs of those he talks with about how Christ can change their lives.
On the evening of Jan. 27, 1997, Bennett returned from a meeting in Oregon to his farm in Sandy Hook, Mo., 20 miles northwest of Jefferson City. The season’s first severe winter storm had left five inches of snow on the ground, and Bennett knew he had to get some hay out of his barn for his horses to eat.
His wife, Tige, professor of communications at Missouri Baptist College in St. Louis, was staying at the apartment they keep near the campus. She spends about half her week there, and Bennett knew he wouldn’t hear from her until about 10 p.m. — their usual time to rendezvous by phone when they’re apart.
As night was falling, he went out to his barn, about 120 feet from his house, to get the hay. “It was really cold,” Bennett recalled. “I tried to pull some hay loose.
“Well, my hay stored on the ground was frozen solid. I couldn’t get it loose, so I crawled up into my barn loft.” The hay bales in the loft were protected from the snow and rainwater that had frozen the bales down below to the ground.
Nevertheless, the bale Bennett was trying to get to was wedged in.
Perched 12 feet above the barn’s frozen-solid mud floor, he began to struggle with the hay. “I was frustrated,” he said. “And I was standing in leather-soled cowboy boots on this smooth barn loft floor. I yanked really hard, and the bale just burst — and I went falling backwards.”
Bennett recalled what went through his mind as he fell. “I remember thinking, ‘This could kill you.’ Then I thought, ‘Don’t hit your head; you’re a preacher. Don’t break your right hand; you’re an artist. And, don’t break your legs; you’re a farmer. My thoughts actually went in that order.”
None of those things happened. Instead, Bennett landed on his left side and shattered his left hip and wrist.
Initially, he couldn’t feel the pain in his hip. “I thought I had broken my ribs, because I could feel pain there,” he said. “Well, I thought, ‘You’ve got to get to help.’”
But two major obstacles lay in front of him — first a barbed-wire fence, then the 40 icy yards to his back door. He started to pray.
“I tried to stand up, but everything just folded underneath me. I started to faint, but I prayed and said, ‘Please give me strength.’”
To make matters worse, his 120-pound Great Pyrenees dog, Mousse, spotted her master on the ground and thought he wanted to play. She pounced on him until Bennett convinced her he was not in any mood for wrestling.
“I got her leg, and twisted it a little until she whimpered,” he recounted. “Then I said, ‘Back!’ And she got the message.”
Bennett had to burrow through the snow under the lowest strand of barbed wire. By this time, he began to realize the pain he was in.
He dragged himself with his right arm and leg the rest of the way to the door. “I have these French doors that we intentionally built into the house. They have French handles, which are easier to open, so I thanked the Lord for that.”
Once inside his kitchen, Bennett hauled himself up on his good leg long enough to reach the phone. The emergency team that arrived to treat him was forced to call for a helicopter, which airlifted Bennett to the University of Missouri Medical Center in Columbia.
He was in the hospital for 13 days and had a series of pins and braces inserted into his wrist and hip during a nine-and-a-half-hour surgery. He spent another four and a half weeks at the home of his son, Chad, who at the time was pastor of First Baptist Church in Stover. Chad now is pastor of Liberty Manor Baptist Church in Liberty.
Chad and his wife, Darla, volunteered to take care of Dave so Tige could continue to work in St. Louis. They had to retrain him to do everything from bathing himself to making his lunch.
He then moved to his apartment in St. Louis, where Tige continued his rehabilitation for another eight weeks.
“With two weeks in the hospital, four weeks at Chad’s, it took about 16 weeks before I could come back to work,” Bennett said. “I had some vacation saved up, and I had sick leave I hadn’t taken. So, I appreciate Missouri Baptists for providing me that kind of benefits so I would not have to give up my job.”
Bennett used a wheelchair for a period of time. Soon he moved on to a walker, then crutches, followed by two canes and finally a lone cane. His rehabilitation went so well that he could walk two to three city blocks without any sort of aid by the summer of 1997.
But, unbeknownst to Bennett or his physicians, a series of viral and fungal infections were inflicting irreparable damage on his hip. His body fought the infections well enough that he never registered a significant fever, but pain and immobility soon returned.
By February 1998, his doctors were talking about installing a prosthetic hip because X-rays showed problems they attributed to improper healing of the hip socket.
“I had deterioration of the bone on the ball of the femur,” Bennett explained. “The doctor and I both thought, as we saw it, that it was just the wearing of the bone — we didn’t know there was any infection.”
Doctors discovered the infection when they opened him up in May 1998 for hip replacement surgery — which they were forced to cancel. Further surgeries and treatments couldn’t stop the infection.
In September 1998, Bennett had a temporary hip replacement, with an eye to a permanent prosthetic hip installation in the spring of 1999. His doctors hope this plan will eradicate the last traces of infection.
He has felt much better since the July surgery. “I’ve got much more energy; I’m not dragged down by infection. But the six months of not using the left leg at all has caused severe atrophy. It’s shrunk 1½ inches.”
Bennett probably never will be able to play most sports or do heavy manual labor again. He probably will rely on at least a cane for the rest of his life. But that does not bother him as much as the feeling he had throughout the spring and summer of 1998 — that he might never defeat the infection.
“I have a lust for life,” Bennett said. “I could think of 14 ways to spend my life and have fun at every one of them. I kept trying to keep my chin up through the whole thing — but, when every time you go back to the doctor you have a new disease, you begin to wonder, ‘Can I get over this? Can my body handle this much infection without it killing me?’”
But that doubt prodded Bennett to focus on more important things. “Four times in my life — three having to do with this hip — I’ve read through the Psalms very intentionally. This summer, I read through them twice again.
“I fully believe that at the moment I die, I’m going to be with the Lord. But, I still related to David when he said, ‘O, Lord, how can I praise You from the grave?’ I want to serve as much as I can, as long as I can.”
Bennett said realizing he should praise God as much as he serves God has led him into more intense personal devotional and worship times — as has relying on God’s strength when he was at the end of his own.
“I almost can’t live without spending time with the Lord now,” he said. “I know how important it is, on a daily basis, to praise him.”
Bennett said he also identifies a little bit more with the suffering of Christ, which puts him in even greater awe of what Christ went through to redeem humankind’s sins. But he cautions that his physical anguish could never compare to Calvary. “My suffering was frustrating; I couldn’t see much purpose in mine, except to bring me back closer to him in worship.”
That doesn’t mean he thinks God willed him to go through the experience. “I don’t think God threw me off that barn loft — that was my mistake,” he reflected. “Maybe Satan had something to do with it.
“I think God has an ultimate purpose for our lives, but I also think he works with what we do with it. And sometimes we do stupid things.”

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  • Rob Marus