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Like a Rock

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Gary Rock beat the odds when he survived a gruesome farming accident. Now, with the help of God, family and friends, he plans to walk again.

By Linda Ireland

 It sounds like a page from the Book of Job.

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On May 29, Gary Rock lost his elderly father.

On June 26, a tornado took his livelihood.

And on Aug. 26, an accident took his legs.

But like the Old Testament patriarch, Rock has refused to let adversity shake his faith in God.

The longtime farmer, now in his mid-50s, is looking forward to receiving prosthetic legs so he can go back to work.

“God chose to spare my life for a reason,” he said. “We live in a society that, many times, people don’t want to think who God is and the power he has, but my life, it was spared. It’s my responsibility to carry out the plan God has for my life.

“I’ve had friends and family that God could have chosen not to let go on, but he did.”

Rock had been grieving his father, Waller, for less than a month when an EF2 tornado struck his dairy farm in Roanoke. The barn, other outbuildings and machinery were destroyed and several cows were injured or killed outright. 

Friends and family helped him clear the debris and a friend in Columbia took the cows to be milked.

Rock, one of four remaining dairy farmers in LaRue County, was unsure of his future. 

“When it occurred – as morning arises and cleanup begins – you begin to ask yourself, do I want to continue with what I do here?”

Dairy farming is a “dying industry,” he said. When he and his brothers began milking, 80 other dairies existed in LaRue County. Inflation, lower demand and regulations have taken a toll on the industry.

After some reflection, Gary knew he wanted to continue with the job he loves. He has always been a farmer – has always treasured the history of the land that has been passed down each generation since 1795. He wants to continue that farming tradition.

Rock traces his family’s history to Jacob LaRue whose 1,500 acres once stretched from northeast LaRue County – the Roanoke area – to Glendale. His log house is built from remnants of an ancestor’s home. 

He now owns 260 acres and rents another 140 acres.

 “I have an interest in saving my corner of this area …,” he said. 

His nephew, Justin Rock, and farmhand Bradley Huccaby, have been working with Gary for some time. He decided the three of them – with the help of others – would “accept the challenge and try to survive this industry.”

The milk parlor, the holding jars and other equipment survived the storm.  Rock rebuilt the barn and the cows came home Aug. 20.

Things seemed to be getting back to normal. The milking resumed and the farmwork continued. 

“Five days later came the accident that cost my legs,” he said. 

Rock was in a field using a self-propelled chopper to cut corn stalks about 7 p.m.

The chopper, which uses a belt to pull the stalks into the cutter, jammed.

Rock said he had been working about 12 hours and was tired. He took a safety shortcut. Rock attempted to clear the jam with his foot, without shutting off the chopper.

“I had done this maneuver many times over the last 20 years and gotten away with it,” he said. “It was not the case this time.”

His foot was perhaps a quarter of an inch, perhaps one-16th of an inch out of the safe zone.

“It caught one of my legs and cut it off,” he said. “The machine still hadn’t turned the rest of my leg loose. I evaluated what would save my life. I let the machine cut my other leg off.”

Rock said he was holding himself “away from the opening that takes all the corn through.” At first he was about three feet away from the opening. Within seconds, he was pulled to within a foot of where he “didn’t have any chance anymore.”

Rock moved his free leg forward and pushed back with his arms. The machine caught his other leg and cut it, allowing him to roll away. He did not lose consciousness and can recall most of the events with clarity.

“With two legs severed you have thousands of thoughts going through your mind,” he said. “I knew I needed to call someone even though we had people in the area.”

He used his cell phone to call his son-in-law, Chris Loyall, a Radcliff firefighter. Loyall, in turn, called 911.

The ambulance, friends and family soon arrived at his farm.

His “dear friend,” Darrell Sprowles, was the first person to reach him. His sister-in-law, a nurse, assisted EMTs with his care as they loaded him in the ambulance and transported to a landing zone for a medical helicopter. 

He recalls telling EMT Jerry McBride, “McBride, don’t you let me die.”

He was flown to University Hospital in Louisville. He learned later, he was not expected to live by anyone who saw the extent of his injuries.

“So explain – through the medical field – why I’m alive,” he said. “God spared my life. I’m a miracle.”

“I have a purpose,” he added. “I truly believe one of my purposes was to bring a community back together in some aspect, some of my family in some aspect, maybe give hope to others who maybe think there is no hope.”

Rock said he visited a man, who had lost both legs, in the hospital. The man had developed blood clots after a heart attack and his blood flow to his extremities was blocked.

“I felt it was my responsibility to try to uplift him and let him know he has a purpose,” he said.

So far, he has avoided depression, “just accepting what I need to do.” He continues to have “phantom pains” in parts of his legs that are no longer there.

 

Learning the cost

Rock did not have health insurance at the time of the accident – although he had it on his property.

“Many farmers throughout the area have wives who provide insurance for them,” he said. “My wife and I suffered the misfortune of not making our marriage work. I lost my insurance after a year.”

He had checked on the cost of a policy, but found the $1,200 monthly premium too costly.

“I decided for this time of life on taking a chance,” he said. “I’d lived a healthy life and everything else was insured.”

Now he faces staggering medical bills. Twelve days in the hospital cost about $240,000. He will continue to require physical therapy. And, depending on the model selected, his prosthetic legs will cost between $25,000 and $100,000 each.

 

Community comes to Rock’s aid

Rock’s family and friends have come to his aid. His friend, Oscar McGuffey, built a wheelchair ramp for the house and is working on hand-assist rails so Rock can lift himself from the wheelchair to his riding lawnmower.

Rock has been riding his lawnmower for a couple of weeks. Loyall has been helping him onto the mower but noted that Rock “likes to do things himself.”

“I’m thankful I can feed and clothe myself and go to the bathroom by myself,” said Rock. That would be so discouraging (if I couldn’t).”

The community is also pitching in financially. A website, keepgarymilking.com, has been created to tell Rock’s story and list ways people can help – from online donations to sending words of encouragement.

Donations can be mailed in care of Gary Rock to LaRue County Young Farmers, Lincoln National Bank, 41 Lincoln Square, Hodgenville, KY 42748.

Participants in Lincoln Days’ Pioneer Games donated most of their winnings – a total of $2,100 – to Rock.

 

FARMERS ROCK

A benefit, “Farmers Rock,” is being planned for 2-5 p.m. Nov. 2 at Sportsman’s Lake, Hodgenville. There will be a tractor show, live and silent auctions, a dance, activities and games for children, corn hole tournament, hay bale toss and vendor set ups. The vendors will donate a portion of their sales to Rock.

The LaRue County Cattlemen’s Association will serve a meal 5-6 p.m.; the live auction begins at 6.

If you would like to help or donate an item, call 270-766-2703.

Rock said he is appreciative of everyone’s efforts on his behalf.

“I am so thankful we live in a community that still cares,” he said.