September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

A close brush with death

Knutson survives contact with hydrogen sulfide, continues to deal with aftermath
Jodi and Jeff Knutson are still dealing with the aftermath of Jodi’s manure pit accident that took place on Nov. 3, 2008. Jodi was exposed to hydrogen sulfide gas that day while rescuing a calf that had fallen into the manure pit on their family’s dairy farm.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON
Jodi and Jeff Knutson are still dealing with the aftermath of Jodi’s manure pit accident that took place on Nov. 3, 2008. Jodi was exposed to hydrogen sulfide gas that day while rescuing a calf that had fallen into the manure pit on their family’s dairy farm.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON

By by Jerry Nelson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

CLEAR LAKE, S.D. - Jeff Knutson glanced anxiously across the seat at his wife, Jodi, as they sped toward a Watertown hospital. Jodi's breathing was becoming increasingly rapid and shallow; the searing pain in her lungs grew with each passing moment.
Jodi turned to her husband and said, "If I don't make it, tell the kids that I love them."
The Knutson family will never forget Nov. 3, 2008 - the day Jodi suffered pulmonary trauma due to exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas in their farm's manure pit.
Jeff and Jodi have three children: Brett (17), Brittany (13) and Cole (9). They milk 70 head and farm 1,000 acres where they grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat. The Knutson children also raise a few Black Angus beef cattle.
The day that Jodi had her manure pit accident dawned as an ordinary autumn morning. That is, until Jeff discovered that a calf had fallen into their underground manure pit.
"We'd just bought two Jersey heifer calves for Brittany for her birthday," said Jodi. "One of them got out and somehow snuck through a tiny gap that's usually covered by the skid loader. She found her way into the manure pit area and fell in through a narrow slot."
Jeff got a halter around the neck of the struggling calf and he and Jodi tried to hoist the 300 pound animal out of the pit.
"We were strangling her, so we decided to get the halter on her the right way and put a rope around her feet," said Jodi. "I laid on my tummy and hung down into the pit while someone held my legs. We managed to rearrange the halter and get a rope onto her legs and used the skid loader to lift her out of the pit. We felt good about saving Brittany's heifer."
But as soon as she returned to her feet, Jodi began to experience symptoms.
"I felt dizzy when I stood back up," she said. "But I didn't want to be a burden. Besides, I didn't have time to be sick that day. We were combining corn at my mom and dad's place and rain was predicted and we had trucks and a combine to move."
Jodi's symptoms intensified as the morning wore on.
"I began to feel worse and worse. I had a burning sensation in my chest and I began to have trouble breathing."
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas that has the odor of rotten eggs. A common source of hydrogen sulfide is the activity of anaerobic bacteria in rotting organic material. Both highly toxic and flammable, hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air, which causes it to collect in low areas.
Inhaling high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can affect the central nervous system and produce instant death. At lower exposures, it can form a complex bond with the body's iron, which interferes with cellular respiration. Inhaled hydrogen sulfide can also form a caustic substance that erodes the lining of the lungs, causing them to fill with fluid.
By mid-morning, Jodi could no longer ignore her worsening symptoms.
"I tried to call Jeff, but there wasn't any cell phone reception that day," she said. "I finally got in touch with him and told him that we had to go to the emergency room."
Jodi's condition continued to deteriorate during their dash to the hospital.
"My speech became slurred, my thinking got muddled, and I couldn't feel my arms and legs," she said.
"The closer we got to the hospital, the worse she got and the faster I drove," said Jeff.
"I was thinking 'Dear God, don't let me die today,'" said Jodi. "It's Brittany's birthday and I don't want her to carry this with her for the rest of her life."
At the hospital, Jodi was immediately placed on oxygen. She was injected with bronchodilators and given steroids to help reduce inflammation. By the end of the day, she had improved to the point where she was told she could return home.
"In retrospect, I shouldn't have gone home that day," said Jodi. "I should have been kept overnight. They weren't real clear on how to deal with a hydrogen sulfide victim and simply treated me like a carbon monoxide patient. I have a cousin who's a nurse at the hospital and she said they came up with a new protocol for treating hydrogen sulfide victims after their experience with me."
Even though she was allowed to go home, Jodi's long road to recovery had only begun.
"I would be wracked by coughing spasms," she said. "I didn't sleep at all for three or four days and it was a month and a half before I could sleep in a bed. It took several months before I began to feel close to normal. My hands and feet felt heavy and I had short-term memory problems. For a while at the beginning, I couldn't walk from the house to the barn without stopping to catch my breath."
"Our kids pitched in and tried to help as much as they could," said Jeff. "Brett was especially helpful. He doesn't say much about how he feels; he does things instead."
Complicating her recovery was the fact that Jodi had difficulty tolerating the inhaled medications she was prescribed.
"I would use my inhaler and just cough and cough and cough," she said. "After a few months I gave up on them and began to use naturopathic remedies. They worked better for me than the prescribed medications."
Jodi suffered a setback ten months after the original incident when she returned to the pit area to help Jeff repair a pump.
"I went into the pit area to hand Jeff some wrenches," said Jodi. "I was in there maybe 30 seconds, but that's all it took."
Later that day, Jodi again found herself in the emergency room.
"My blood gases were actually worse than when I was there the first time," she said. "The hydrogen sulfide was still affecting my blood chemistry."
Even though she's had no serious incidents since then, Jodi continues to deal with the aftermath of her exposure to hydrogen sulfide.
"Certain odors can make it difficult for me to breathe," she said. "I also have trouble when it's hot and humid. On a hot summer day, I can't be in our barn unless there's at least a 10 MPH breeze. My short-term memory is improving, but I still have some trouble with it."
In retrospect, Jeff and Jodi agree that the situation should have been handled much differently.
"We probably should have just left the calf in the pit," said Jeff. "We would have felt bad about it, but that calf wasn't worth the sacrifice of Jodi's life."
"It was a stupid thing to do," said Jodi of her actions that day. "Sometimes your first instinct isn't your best instinct. We should have thought things through and done it in a safer manner."
Jodi is a living, breathing example of the importance of farm safety.
"Just because you got away from hydrogen sulfide doesn't mean that you're done with it," she said. "All it takes is not thinking for a few seconds and it can affect you for the rest of your life!"
You can learn more about the hazards of hydrogen sulfide at:[[In-content Ad]]


You must login to comment.

Top Stories

Today's Edition



27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

sep 27, 2023 @ 12:00pm
sep 27, 2023 @ 12:00pm