This is a tough story. There's no easy way to tell it. You may want to stop here, but if you do you'll miss so much that's good about this nation of ours. The date was Aug. 22, 1991, and young Samuel Herschberger was three days shy of his 10th birthday. While trying to unhook a tractor hitch from a silage grinder, Samuel got snared in the machine. A piece of his clothing became caught, and the force of the grinder was so great he was yanked out of his shoes and wrapped around a powerful rotating shaft. The story as told in the Chicago Tribune is that his brother, David, kept hearing a "thud" and went to check it out. That's when he found Samuel nearly ripped apart and entangled in the machinery. David ran for his father and told him what had happened. The father sprinted to the machine, but the sight of his mangled son made him stop and turn away, believing the boy was dead. In a journal that one day may be published, the father, Oba Herschberger, wrote this account: "Thinking him dead, I walked back a few steps, then a tiny voice said, `Dad, please help me.' I spun around and came back and his eyes were partly opened*.*.*."
It had to be a dreadful scene. The paramedics who came to rescue Samuel later needed counseling to help them cope with what they went through that day. Samuel never lost consciousness, and no one can remember him crying out in pain. As soon as he could be freed he was taken to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill. Eleven doctors worked 18 hours to save Samuel's life. They reattached his limbs and portions of his scalp. And over the past few years he has survived 28 operations. His left arm had to be removed. His right hand is hardly functional, and one of his legs is several inches shorter than the other. Both legs are turned in but he can walk without assistance. The pain Samuel has had to endure must be unspeakable. But this is a remarkable story about a little boy who is alive today because of gifted physicians and modern medical technology.
There's more to it, though. The Herschbergers are Amish. Oba and his wife, Lorene, have 13 children. Following Amish traditions, their lives are devoid of conveniences we take for granted. For instance, no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no TV and most other things people outside the Amish community think are so essential. Oba, 47, works his 140-acre farm in central Illinois with horse-drawn plows.
So far Samuel's medical costs have exceeded half a million dollars, and many of the attending physicians have either donated their services or cut fees way back. Still the family faces substantial medical bills. Recently, in order to pay those bills, they hit upon a unique way to raise money. They would host home-cooked Amish-style meals. They started this last December and since then have hosted groups of as many as 43 people.
Remember that the Amish don't have too much contact with the outside world, so bringing people into their home from outside their community has been a learning experience for the Herschbergers. For instance, since Samuel's accident, Oba Herschberger has found that goodness and kindness exist in surprising quantities "on the outside." As he observed: "One thing I learned is they hug their kids more than we do. Amish just don't show emotions that much, but I've started hugging my kids now."
Because of press accounts about the family and Samuel's ordeal, donations have been coming in every day. On some days more than 500 letters arrived. And the total estimate is about 70,000. Because of these numbers the Herschbergers have asked people to stop sending donations. Oba puts it this way: "The main message is thank you, we appreciate it very much, but please no more. You get it in your head from reading the paper that there is so much violence out there and maybe everybody is just crazy. But then here comes this, and you realize there are a lot of kind, loving and caring people out there in the world." Amen to that.
Just look around you,Charles S. Lauer