WALPOLE, N.H. -- Caitlin Caserta has been on an emotional roller-coaster for more than a week.
She experienced true fear upon seeing the injuries her husband, Chris, sustained in a freak accident on Friday, Jan. 3, and has since been overwhelmed with the care and kindness expressed by loved ones and complete strangers.
Two of the couple's friends started an account on YouCaring.com, an online fundraising site, almost immediately following the accident that caused extensive damage to Chris' face and donations surpassed the initial goal of $20,000 within the first 24 hours. The target was then set at $30,000 but raised to $60,000 when it was, once again, met. Monetary donations had reached $34,591 by 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 13.
Caitlin told the Reformer she has been touched by the generosity her family has received, as friends and family members have volunteered their service at Walpole Valley Farms, which the Casertas own.
The two had finished their chores when Chris noticed some billowing black smoke through the trees out in the distance. He knew the woods contain a snowmobile trail, so he got his tractor and drove to make sure there hadn't been an accident. Noticing a fallen tree along the way, he decided to use the vehicle to try to move it. In doing this, one of the tree's limbs got caught (possibly under the tractor) before springing back and smashing into Chris' face.
He was temporarily blinded in both eyes and spent about 15 minutes aimlessly trying to find his way home. 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, told Caitlin to call 911 once he saw Chris' injuries. Caitlin, who has been married to Chris for nine-and-a-half years, 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, though it seemed like an eternity.
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. 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 said the leak required a drain to relieve some of the pressure put on his brain. Chris spent much of Friday, Jan. 10, under the knife -- including three hours of pre-operation work and nine hours of active surgery.
"He's doing well. He's still in a lot of pain because they had to completely cut open of his head from ear to ear," she said, adding that surgeons repaired the frontal bone of her husband's skull, his nose, his sinuses and eye sockets. She said Chris now has about 11 plates and more than 80 screws in his head.
Caitlin also said doctors were able to reduce additional damage to Chris' face by going in through his mouth to repair his cheekbones, palate and top teeth. She said it is unlikely her husband, who is temporarily on a liquid diet, will need more surgeries in the near future, but pain management is the biggest challenge right now. She has tried to make him more comfortable by purchasing goods from the Co-op Food Store across the street from the medical center.
According to Caitlin, Chris could make it home in the next two or three days, though he will face up to six months of recovery.
Chris' father-in-law, radio personality and Reformer columnist "Arlo Mudgett," said his son-in-law remains in good spirits, despite his gruesome injuries.
"He's a very strong young man. He's a positive person, anyway," he said. "And I'm so impressed with my daughter and how she has stepped up to this. She's a very strong lady."
Arlo Mudgett, a pseudonym, said he marvels at how friends and family have rallied together to help on the 100-acre farm and watch after his grandsons, who witnessed their father's injuries.
Caitlin said family members, friends, neighbors and the Casertas' one employee have been taking care of Walpole Valley Farms, though she hopes to return in the next few days.
"It's hard to say ‘yes' to so many people. It's wonderful -- it's just hard to accept (help) when you're so independent and head-strong," she said, adding that volunteers have worked to make deliveries, feed the animals, watch over the farm store and wash and pack eggs. "We're feeling lucky to live where we do."
She said even some of Chris' college friends have come from eastern Massachusetts to help.
"This whole thing has been emotional -- and, now, it's emotional in another way," she said.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.