3 years, 3 tragedies: “I hope I’m done,” says Phil Yoakum | neighborhood supplement

BY DENNIS BUCKLEY for Neighborhood Extra

Three years ago, Phil Yoakum’s cabin along the Platte River was engulfed in floodwaters.

Two years ago, her son and only child, Carl, died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 27.

A year ago, Yoakum was cutting large limbs from a huge oak tree in southwest Omaha when a 30-foot branch fell and pinned him, literally leaving a human footprint in the yard. The freak accident crushed his back and ribs and injured his internal organs.

The accident led to a 65-day hospitalization including 40 days in intensive care – 30 days on a ventilator and in a coma – for treatment of 14 broken ribs, a broken spine, a broken shoulder and a stomach rupture.

Several surgeries and more than $2 million in medical bills later, Yoakum still faces three more stomach surgeries and an operation for a replacement shoulder.

But he considers himself lucky. Yes, fortunate. Divine intervention, perhaps.

“There are people worse off than me,” said the eternal optimist and good guy in every way.

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lucky to survive

Yoakum’s attitude can be attributed to the fact that he is still with us: the trauma doctors gave him a 20% chance of surviving the ordeal. A Yoakum employee who witnessed the tragedy was a bit more skeptical.

“My guy Tony (Snyder) thought I was dead,” Yoakum said.

Yoakum recreated the scene: “I was cutting pieces of the tree – there were three large sections – when the tree toppled over and crushed me. The impact actually left my body print in this guy’s garden. My employee told me “watch out!” I gave up my chainsaw, but it was too late.

Doctors said Yoakum’s robust physical condition played a role in his survival. A 32-year career as a machine operator at the former Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant in Havelock had strengthened his core and allowed him to develop 175 pounds.

He managed to get out from under the tree on that fateful day of March 16 last year. Rushed to a nearby hospital, he was placed in an induced coma and underwent three major surgeries in the space of four days.

Community volunteer

Yoakum, now 58, was a familiar face in the Lincoln’s University Place neighborhood for several decades and served as president of the University Place Community Organization (UPCO). He was an active volunteer for MAD Dads and United Way, and coached his son’s baseball teams for eight years.

Yoakum retired from Goodyear Tire & Rubber in 2016 and started his own home improvement business the next day. On the day of the accident, Yoakum was working on a patio restoration project when he was approached by his client’s neighbor with a request to cut down a tree.

“He asked me if I was bonded and insured and I said ‘of course’. Thirty minutes later I’m stuck under a tree in his garden!

Totally disabled

The active and hardworking owner of Phix-It Phil’s Handyman service is now 100% disabled. He moves slowly these days and reluctantly uses a disabled sticker. The accident left him with no abdominal muscles and a “very painful” back, but he is quick to add: “There are people who are worse off than me. »

It’s the Phil Yoakum that friends and neighbors have come to know over the years.

“Phil is the kindest, most generous person you will ever meet,” Joan Hill wrote on a Facebook page as she promoted a Go Fund Me account and music fundraising event. . “I guarantee you he would do anything he could to help any of us.”

Three weeks after the tree accident, several hundred Yoakum friends and supporters gathered for a fundraiser with live music from Lloyd McCarter and the Honky-Tonk Revival Band at Buck’s Bar in Venice, Nebraska. The proceeds helped cover Yoakum’s medical bills and living expenses.

“Three Main Aids”

Deeply moved by the show of support, Yoakum thanks everyone who responded. He singled out three “main assistants” for helping him navigate the mountains of medical paperwork:

– His ex-wife, Sandy Yoakum, with whom he has a friendly relationship;

– His sister, Sarah Yoakum; and

– Sara Crisp, a former neighbor who accompanies him to all his appointments at the hospital.

Yoakum credits Crisp’s experience with medical paperwork for helping sift through the medical maze. “She’s a former neighborhood kid who worked in a hospice,” Yoakum said of Crisp. “I didn’t know that one day I would need his services. She has been absolutely invaluable.

Thanks to a union-brokered healthcare package he was able to take with him after quitting his job at Goodyear, Yoakum says the insurance covered “all but about $2,000” of his more than 2 million dollars in medical bills.

Previous setbacks

Yoakum’s year-on-year tragedies began on March 14, 2019, when floodwaters severely damaged a cabin residence he purchased in December 2017 along the Platte River near Yutan. With abundant help from friends, he was able to rebuild his cabin in 82 days.

Unfortunately, the second event in Yoakum’s series of tragedies claimed the life of his only child, business partner and best friend, Carl Yoakum, who collapsed and died of a heart attack in his father’s cabin.

“We gave him CPR and called an ambulance, but the doctors said it was so sudden he was probably gone by the time he hit the ground,” Carl’s father said.

Where from here?

In a March 11 phone interview, Yoakum said he was still facing a long battle: three more stomach surgeries and a shoulder replacement operation, which tore three of the four major muscles in his body. shoulder.

“I didn’t even know they could replace a shoulder…I’m learning a lot about anatomy,” he said.

When his schedule doesn’t require him for hospital procedures and doctor visits, he enjoys observing nature from the comfort of his cabin on the lake. The branches of his unfortunate tree accident are set aside for his wood stove.

His DIY business is now a thing of the past, but his long-term plans include tinkering around his shop and making birdhouses and rocking horses for family and friends.

All the downtime also allowed him to reflect on the setbacks of the past three years.

“I’ve had three tragedies in three years…I hope I’m over it.”

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