A week ago Friday, my son-in-law, Chris Caserta, saw black smoke billowing through the trees to the east of their family farm in Walpole, N.H. He told my daughter that he would be right back after checking the source of the smoke. Could it be someone in trouble out on the snowmobile trail? He jumped on the Case tractor and headed down through the woods, past the sugar house and up the trail that led over to County Road. He came up to a fallen tree blocking the trail. While attempting to push it out of the way, a branch the diameter of a baseball bat snapped back hitting him in the face with incredible, bone-shattering force. He knew he was seriously injured from all the blood and the fact that he had lost his vision. In a state of shock, he got off the tractor and started walking in the direction of where he thought home was.
The vision in Chris’ left eye partially returned, and he realized that he would never make it home in the condition that he was in. He backtracked to the tractor while realizing that he had been headed in the wrong direction from home anyway. Somehow he managed to turn the still-running tractor around and drive it back to the farm in incredible pain, swallowing what seemed like gallons of blood. He was nauseous and could barely see, but he made it home. The first to spot him was his brother-in-law, Tim, who was plowing the driveway from the previous evenings snowfall. He yelled to my daughter, Caitlin, to call 911.
Response seemed to take forever, and the reason was that the closest emergency vehicles were at a serious fire on County Road, the source of the black smoke that had drawn Chris out to investigate. When help arrived it was determined that Chris needed to be airlifted immediately to the nearest trauma center. A UMass Medical Center chopper was the only thing available as DHART was on another call. By this time Chris had lost a lot of blood, but the folks at the scene urged him to hang on, that help was on its way. The ambulance transported him across Wentworth Road to their neighbors, Alyson’s Orchard. Walpole Highway Department vehicles had scrambled their snow removal equipment to the airstrip at the top of the orchard, clearing a space for the med flight to land. The coordination of all this effort was simply amazing.
Caitlin rode shotgun next to the pilot, and watched the family farm pass underneath her feet. They flew directly over her own family home in that anxious and surreal flight over the places of her childhood. Chris was quickly stabilized at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., and when the surgeon examined the CT scan of his skull he stated that he had never seen such extensive facial damage. Every bone in Chris’ face was shattered and even his palate was detached. The pain was incredible. It took some time to assess all the damage while waiting for the swelling to recede. Surgery was scheduled and the job of managing the pain was begun. In the meantime friends of Chris , Caitlin, and my grandsons, Sam and Henry, were busy putting together an on-line fundraiser to help with the enormous medical cost that the family is facing.
In less than a week, more than $32,000 has been raised on youcaring.com. With a ridiculously high deductible and an 80/20 co-pay, they are going to need all of the fund and then some. Meanwhile, family, neighbors and friends all pitched in to cover childcare, and the extensive chores required to keep Walpole Valley Farms producing. The outpouring of love and support for Chris has been nothing short of miraculous. Well wishes have come in from all over the world, bolstering the strength and resolve Chris needed for the 12-hour surgery to reconstruct his shattered face. As I write this, Chris has successfully endured the surgery and will need many months and subsequent surgeries to fully recover.
So life turns on a dime.
In the case of my son-in-law, the repercussions of serious injury will alter the life we all knew. Chris is a good man, well regarded and much respected, a great father and husband. Chris and Caitlin have touched the lives of so many in the valley where they both grew up. They have always made our families proud. Beyond that pride is the love and respect for the communities and people in Vermont and New Hampshire who make up this area that we call home. Your incredible response has evoked tears of profound respect and gratitude. For Chris, Caitlin, Sam, Henry and all of our family we thank you all so very much for your help in a time of great need.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.