COLUMBUS — Butch Runge’s story could very easily be that of any Nebraska farmer.
That’s why he’s willing to share it.
The rural Columbus man is quite happy staying out of the public eye at his farm about 2½ miles east of Lake North, but he’s hoping what happened to him early last month can serve as a lesson for other farmers during the high-stress planting and harvest seasons.
Runge, who considers himself to be in pretty good shape for 65, wasn’t feeling the greatest that week, but like any stubborn father, he told his daughter, Michele Martin, a trip to the doctor could wait until after the corn crop was in.
He was crabby and shorthanded on Nov. 7, so Martin agreed to pull the grain cart while her brother Travis and a neighbor hauled corn back and forth between the field northeast of Columbus and the Archer Daniels Midland ethanol plant on the east side of town.
Runge was in the combine with a bag of chocolate-covered peanuts and a bottle of Dr. Pepper.
“I just starting getting a pain in my chest,” he said.
It was probably indigestion from the snacks, Runge thought, so he kept going.
But as Runge made the turn and starting cutting a path back across the quarter-mile section, the pain worsened.
He stopped the combine, crawled out and dropped to his knees.
This indigestion is really bad, he thought, asking his daughter for Rolaids.
Martin, a paramedic who works in the emergency room at York General Hospital, knew better.
Her father was having a heart attack.
She shut off the tractor pulling the grain cart, grabbed her vehicle and ordered her father to get in, then called her brother and the local hospital.
Minutes later, they were at Columbus Community Hospital, where an ER team was standing by.
Runge doesn’t remember much of the quick trip.
“I kept blacking out all the way to town,” he said.
At the hospital, the medical team led by Dr. Robert Miller quickly diagnosed Runge’s condition as a “widowmaker,” a massive heart attack that often leads to death.
“Columbus Hospital recognized it right away,” Martin said.
A blood clot and chunk of plaque that broke off completely blocked one of Runge’s main arteries to the heart and closed 98 percent of the other. His heart was in fibrillation, fluttering but not pumping blood.
“That’s what happens right before you die,” said Runge, who was shocked multiple times with a defibrillator, and CPR was administered to get his heart beating again.
Runge was stabilized at the Columbus hospital, then transported by Midwest MedAir to CHI Nebraska Heart, where he underwent a procedure to remove the blockage and insert two stents to open the arteries.
Less than 2½ hours passed between the time when he had his heart attack at about 5:30 p.m. and when he was recovering from the procedure that left only a small mark on his right wrist where doctors accessed a blood vessel.
Runge was back in church that Sunday and back in the combine the following week. But he knows things could have turned out much differently had his daughter not decided to help out that day.
His message to other farmers is not to ignore the signs of a potential health issue, even if it is harvest season.
“I guess God works in mysterious ways,” Runge said. “It just wasn’t my time to go.”