WALPOLE, N.H. -- You never know the true character of a community until it is tested.
Townspeople got that opportunity a week ago when one of their own suffered some gruesome injuries in a freak accident in the woods near his business, Walpole Valley Farms.
Chris Caserta and his wife, Caitlin, had finished their daily chores Friday when Chris noticed some smoke billowing above the trees out in the distance. The woods contain a snowmobile trail, so he hopped onto his tractor and drove to make sure there hadn't been an accident. On his way, he noticed a fallen tree and decided to use the vehicle to try to move it. That's when one of the tree's limbs got caught (possibly under the tractor) and sprung back like a catapult, striking Chris in the face.
He was temporarily blinded in both eyes and spent about 15 minutes aimlessly trying to find help. He eventually regained vision in one eye and rode the tractor back to his house in the 4 degree weather. His brother-in-law, who was plowing snow in the driveway, raced inside and told Caitlin to call 911 once he saw Chris' injuries. Caitlin told the Reformer that emergency personnel were at the scene of a fire in Walpole (which caused the smoke Chris was investigating) and arrived at Walpole Valley Farms in about 15 minutes.
Caitlin, who has been married to Chris for nine-and-a-half years, said the EMTs soon realized the severity of her husband's injuries and ordered a UMass Memorial LifeFlight helicopter from Worcester, Mass., to bring him to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. The medical helicopter used a landing strip at Alyson's Orchard in Walpole. Caitlin said Chris' numerous injuries included temporarily blindness, broken eye sockets, a major head laceration and a shattered nose that caused cerebrospinal fluid to leak from his brain. She told the Reformer the leak required a drain to relieve some of the pressure put on his brain.
For the other injuries, Chris is slated for reconstructive surgery at 6 a.m. today. According to Caitlin, members of her husband's surgical team have said his facial injuries are probably the worst they have ever seen.
Almost immediately after the accident, two of the Casertas' friends started an online fundraiser to generate money to help cover medical costs. There is a YouCaring.com account established to allow people to donate to help the Caserta family. The initial goal was set at $20,000 but increased to $30,000 when the first target was reached within the first 24 hours. Caitlin said she and her sons (who also saw the injuries) are still reeling from the horror of that fateful day, but take solace in the fact that their community has stepped up to help.
"I'm amazed by the support our community has shown. It just brings tears to my eyes every time I look online," she said Thursday. "It's the power of the human heart to come to somebody's aid when something like this happens. (Chris) is such a lively, positive guy. People are especially drawn to him."
There is another fundraiser (called The Christopher Caserta Fund) at the Savings Bank of Walpole.
Caitlin said Chris was not well enough to speak Thursday but wanted to thank everyone for their generous support over the past week.
"He would like to say, ‘Thank you for all the support.' It is absolutely overwhelming. His heart just feels so full," she related. "That's what he's been saying to me."
Caitlin said Chris' parents bought Walpole Valley Farms in 1998 and she and her husband started actively farming there in 2006. She said friends, family members and the Casertas' part-time employee have been picking up the slack at the farm and plenty of people have volunteered to watch the children.
She said though Chris definitely faces a long road to recovery, this whole experience and the outpouring of support will likely make him a stronger person.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.