Angel in the Cornfield
A heavenly stranger intercedes when a corn farmer is critically injured.
Nick Leibold: Just after 11 a.m. and already the sun was blistering hot in Northern Iowa. Sweat ran down my back as I finished mowing a wide strip of grass between endless rows of corn—an area with drainage too poor for crops.
Not that we’d seen rain lately. The ground was dry and dusty, coating everything with a film of dirt.
Thankfully I was nearly done, just in time for lunch with my wife, Kendra. Normally I’d be inside an air-conditioned cab, but for small jobs I like driving my dad’s 1963 John Deere tractor, pulling a mower behind me.
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I’m a fourth-generation farmer, born and raised here, like most of my neighbors. Around these parts no one is a stranger.
I backed the tractor to the edge of the field, close to a post I’d wrapped with old wire fencing taken down years ago. I heard a loud scraping noise, like the mower blades caught on something. I pressed the control to lift the blades—
Out of nowhere, a sharp pain stabbed me in my chest. Hard to get a breath. I had to get off the tractor! But I could barely move. I half-fell, half-stumbled to the ground.
Lying there on my right side, I was helpless. Didn’t have the strength to grab my cell phone from my right pants pocket. How long before Kendra comes looking for me? She was my only hope.
This time of day everyone was working. No one would be driving down our road. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open. The sun beating down on me. “Please hurry,” I whispered. What was the point? There was no one to hear my plea.
Aaron Blatti: “Nick, can you hear me?” My neighbor barely nodded. A circle of blood pooled on his back. Not 15 minutes before, I’d decided to take my antique tractor for a spin.
Normally I go straight at the intersection. But today I’d felt a strange urge to turn left. That’s when I saw Nick lying in the grass. The mower sitting over some rusty old wire fencing nearby. Could a piece of wire have plunged into his back? It looked like he’d been shot.
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“We’re going to get you help,” I said. I hit speed dial on my cell phone for the sheriff ’s department. “Nick Leibold’s been hurt bad,” I said. I called my wife to call Kendra. Dear God, please keep Nick alive, at least until his wife can get here.
Minutes later I heard a car coming up the road. A brown van pulled in behind my tractor. The van was spotless, not a speck of dirt on it.
A white-haired man walked toward me. No one I’d ever seen before. A farmer, dressed in jeans and a button-down short-sleeve shirt, his hair neatly trimmed under a ball cap. “Anything I can do?” he asked.
“We are waiting on the ambulance,” I said. “We may need help lifting him.”
The man nodded. “I’ll stand here and block the sun.” I wouldn’t forget the kindness from a complete stranger.
At last Tim Phillips, a volunteer first responder, arrived. He put an oxygen mask over Nick’s face and cut the back of his shirt open, an entry wound barely visible. Kendra pulled up.
“The most important thing is to keep him calm,” Tim told her. But I could see the worry on his face. We were running out of time.
Kendra Leibold: I wasn’t scared. Not at first. Nick didn’t seem to be in pain. There was only a little blood on his back. I crouched next to him and stroked his cheek. “I’m right here, honey,” I said.
The ambulance arrived and the paramedics rushed a backboard to Nick’s side. The men lifted him onto it and then each of us took a corner and carried it to the ambulance. The ambulance pulled away, roaring down the road.