A year after being critically injured when thrown from his motorcycle in an accident at the intersection of Highway 54 and SR 61, 72-year-old Dennis Chinn of Pratt is continuing his recovery at the family home and he is able, miraculously, to do some work around the homestead.
“At times he’s shaky and weak and sometimes he has tremors,” Vicki Chinn, his wife of 54 years, said of her husband, who before the accident supported an extended family with his trucking business.
“He hauled cattle out of the Pratt Sale Barn and he was always available to help other truckers,” Vicki said. “He was known as the ‘Grandfather of the Highway’.”
The night of the accident, May 11, 2019, Chinn was airlifted to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita from Pratt Regional Medical Center where he had been transported by Pratt EMS from the accident scene.
Dennis was visited at Wesley by one of the truckers who had heard about his injuries as the news was spread like wildfire via CB radio, Vicki said.
“He told us that news of Dennis’ accident had almost crossed the United States via trucker CB radio.” Vicki said. “And then he tied a red bandana to the end of Dennis’ bed to signify that Dennis was a trucker and that his trucker friends were praying for him.”
“On arrival at Wesley, Dennis was given a one percent chance to live,” Vicki said.
After three days, Vicki said she was informed by one of the doctors that, because the medical prognosis for Dennis’ recovery was bleak, the next morning, if Dennis was not able to respond to two tests to prove that his brain was interacting with his limbs, her husband would be taken off life support.
“He had to be able to give a `thumbs up` and he had to be able to wiggle his toes,” Vicki said.
The night before the testing was to be done, Vicki said she and their then-16-year-old granddaughter Tori spent hours talking to Dennis and putting his thumb up and wiggling his toes.
The next morning Vicki got the report that Dennis did a shaky thumbs up and wiggled his toes, passing the test that allowed him to be kept alive.
“Many family, friends and people in many states continued to pray and still do. And I firmly and truly believe every prayer was heard,” Vicki said.
“I had quite an argument with that surgeon about who had the final say as to Dennis surviving and it wasn’t going to be him,” Vicki said. “I pointed up to heaven and said `You are forgetting someone!’ He didn’t have much to say after that!”
Dennis spent 17 days in Wesley ICU and then was transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, NE where he received a full spectrum of therapies – respiratory and speech, along with occupational and physical therapy.
“It’s considered one of the six top brain centers in the United States,” Vicki said.
“His struggles there were to keep from drowning in the amount of fluids that his lungs produced,” Vicki said.
She stayed with Dennis in his room round-the-clock for the about two months he was in treatment at Madonna.
“He coughed and choked so hard his feet would fly up off the bed and his head up off the pillow,” Vicki said.
Etched in Vicki’s heart, she said, is a question Dennis asked her while he was in care at Madonna.
“He opened his eyes one day and he asked me, ‘What did I do before I died?’,” Vicki said.
In late July last year, Dennis was transferred to Pratt Health and Rehabilitation Center where he was under care until last September 20 when he was released to return to his home in north Pratt.
Today, Dennis is able to do limited work around the homestead, but his company semi, a 2008 Peterbuilt, was sold because he knew he would not be going back out on the road again for a while.
“I think it broke his heart to sell that rig. It had been his home-away-from-home while he was on the road,” Vicki said.
Even as his recovery continues, Vicki said that Dennis has trouble eating and is self-conscious because the accident took out three of his front teeth.
“The dentist said it would take $15,000 to replace them,” Vicki said. “We just don’t have that.”
Last December Vicki created an on-line Go Fund Me account to help with the medical expenses. The fund remains open for donations.