Francesca “Frannie” Feekes was greasing the bearings of a fertilizer tender, when it rumbled to life in May last year, at the Archer Coop Grain Co. in Archer, Iowa.
After finishing one side, she was waiting for her coworker to bring a ladder to continue her work.
“I was raised on a farm and you don’t stand around — you find something to do,” Feekes said. “So, I went to get my grease gun.”
Feekes reached for her tools, which laid on the ground near the tender’s rotating power takeoff shaft (PTO). She thought they were a safe enough distance away.
Her hair was in a bun, and when Feekes grabbed her grease gun, the spinning shaft caught hold — taking with it her scalp and both her ears.
Paramedics brought her to Sheldon, Iowa. There, she was sedated and brought to Sioux Falls, where she awoke the next day after surgery to reattach her scalp to her skull, she said.
Feekes has no long-term damage to her hearing, and planned to come back to campus this semester. However, failed skin grafts and the laborious creation of prosthetic ears have put her plans on hold.
Initially, Feekes was nervous about being back on campus.
“I don’t have hair, I’m bald, I don’t have ears and I wasn’t ready to face my peers looking like this,” she said. “Even though we’re adults, people our age can still be really cruel.”
Even adults, Feekes said, have gawked and stared at her, going so far as to ask her inappropriate questions about her wounds.
But according to Feekes, her healing is “going really well,” and with the reservations she had for being on campus gone, she’s ready to “be a normal person again.”
“I’ve decided to say ‘screw it, let ‘em stare,’” Feekes said. “I’m just going to try to do normal people things like, you know, go dancing with my friends.”
According to her long-time friend and agronomy major Cynthia Winkel, that’s just who Feekes is — passionate about agriculture, faith and family and she “doesn’t let anything get her down.”
“When I went to visit her in the hospital for the first time after the accident she was asking everyone how they were doing with it,” Winkel said. “She was more concerned about how everyone else was handling the situation, rather than worrying about herself.”
The accident happened during Feekes’ summer internship.
Her spirits never diminished, and she constantly had to be reminded to “slow down” when she worked, said Scott Summa, Feekes’ former supervisor and manager at Archer Co-op.
“She was so excited when I called her and the doctor had given her a release to come back on a restricted work schedule,” Summa said. “She was just elated.”
Currently, Feekes is helping out her father on the family farm. Her attitude was an “inspiration,” Summa said.
Feekes has been called an inspiration a lot since her accident but doesn’t think she’s anything of the sort.
“Everyone says I’m an inspiration because of how positive I’ve been with it,” Feekes said. “But I’m — what else can you do? Why would you want to wallow in self-pity over something like this? Because you can’t change the outcome.”
Feekes continues to keep her sense of humor about her accident with the PTO shaft.
“It’s kind of a sick joke, but I find it kind of funny — because that’s just how I am — is the fact that I taught tractor PTO safety at farm safety camp in high school,” Feekes said. “If you can’t laugh about it, what can you do?”