This story originally ran in the Sept. 22 issue of the Community Voice. For your own subscription, call 270-384-9454.
Listening to Brian Cowan talk about the day he almost died, there is a sense of sadness for what happened, but there is also a big feeling of joy for what he learned about himself.
On Sept. 26 of 2006, Cowan was out in the fields on the farm on C.R. Jones Rd. in Cane Valley that he works with his father, Vaughn; his brother, Doug; and his nephew Gabe. Farming has been something Cowan has been doing all his life and he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I don’t remember the specifics of the day, I just know that I was taking life for granted and God humbled me,” Cowan said. “I got close to dying, I know did, and this has changed my life. If people tell me they don’t believe in God, I would like for them to come, and I will take them out there and show them where he was that day.”
National Farm Safety and Health Week is set for Sept. 18-24, and it is a subtle reminder for Cowan to be extra careful around machinery. He jokingly calls himself a crash test dummy, especially after he was injured again just recently when a piece of steel fell and hit him in the head.
Cowan said the family owns about 250 acres and then leases around 400 acres. They have about 100 milk cows, 60 beef cows and crop over 400 acres.
“This is the only job I have had,” Cowan said. “I roll out about 6 a.m. in the morning and we work until 7-8 p.m. every night. I never know what I am going to be doing when I go into work every day and that’s the best part of what I do. I love it.”
Cowan was working a corn field by himself, using the silage chopper, something he’s done over and over for years. The chopper is a large attachment for a tractor that chops corn silage. All farm machinery can be dangerous to use.
“I got my leg caught in a silage chopper and I don’t really know how, it just kind of happened,” Cowan said. “We were cutting corn to feed the cows.”
Cowan said he was shocked when he realized he was caught. However, he said he didn’t really panic.
“I got my foot caught in it and my brother wasn’t very far from me when it happened,” Cowan continued. “I couldn’t call out to him. I got out of the machine some way, with God’s help is the only way I know, and I fought to try and stand up.”
He said his father and brother were working at other parts of the farm and did see what happened.
“I had to crawl about 100 yards until they saw me and came out to me,” Cowan said. “I tried to walk but I couldn’t. I broke my heal bone off and messed up some of my toes. I could see Doug and my father, but no one could hear me.”
Cowan said his father told him later that he thought he saw two dogs playing around in the field and that caught his eye. When he saw it was Brian, they rushed to pick him up and Doug rushed him to T.J. Columbia. He was later flown to the University of Louisville Hospital.
“I can’t remember much of my time at T.J., or of my time in the helicopter to Louisville,” Cowan said. “In Louisville, they wanted me to keep my leg and do rehab. I decided to take my leg off at the knee. I think that happened on a Wednesday and I think I went home on Saturday. I got my leg around the first of the year.”
Cowan said he just didn’t like the way the doctors were talking about how life could be if he kept his leg. He said he had a cousin that had been through a similar thing, and he kept his leg. He told Brian how painful it was and suggested he consider amputation.
There were no second thoughts.
“I wouldn’t take my leg back no way,” he said. “From the beginning, I took life for granted and God humbled me. I still get a little emotional talking about it and there is no way to explain what you have to go through. I tell people I walk with a purpose now. I don’t always do it right, but I try.”
Surviving a few safety issues around the farm over the years hasn’t slowed Cowan down. And don’t even think about talking to him about dialing back his workload.
“I have given this farm my leg already, so I am going to give it my life,” Cowan said. “I would lose another leg to try and keep this dirt. It is all about the dirt. I am the luckiest guy in the world to be able to work every day with my 77-year-old dad and I get to see my 72-year-old mother. I am the luckiest dude I know.”