WASHBURN, WI-- It isn't exactly how any family plans to spend Christmas-- in the hospital. But for one Northwest Wisconsin family, that's their reality.
A Washburn man is on the road to recovery after an accident while plowing left him without feeling in his legs. It happened during the Dec 1. blizzard.
It wasn't the way Gary Krueger imagined his morning going as he started to plow his driveway with a four-wheeler, in the midst of a powerful blizzard that dumped over 30-inches of heavy, wet snow in Bayfield County.
"I just remember some green coming around me and some compression. I had myself pinned by a tree on the four-wheeler," said Gary as he recalls the moment his life changed forever.
Crushed, by a snapped 50-foot tall snow-covered, mature pine tree and alone in rural Wisconsin. He said, "I could not feel my legs, I couldn't move, I couldn't get off the four-wheeler."
Krueger, an Ashland County Corrections Officer, immediately became aware of the dangerous situation he found himself in. "It's going to be a long time before they can get into me because of the weather."
After yelling for help for some time, Gary realized he has his cell phone in his pocket. "I looked up and was like you know, I'm not going to die here in this," he explained.
Able to call 9-11, a nearby neighbor heard the address over an emergency scanner and notified dispatch that she would go looking for her injured neighbor.
Gary said, "I was in quite a bit of pain and just waiting. It was quite a lonely feeling, sitting there waiting for somebody to show up."
That same neighbor, having to deliver the news to Gary's wife, Marnie.
"[She said] Marnie there's been an accident. And I just kind of stopped. It didn't sink in." said Gary's wife.
Marnie who was working in Duluth as an ER nurse at the time of the accident knew to get her husband's help was going to be a challenge with the treacherous weather. Marnie said, "It was probably the most helpless feeling I've ever had."
Gary was finally cut free by emergency responders nearly 4-hours after the tree fell. Responders had to hike a half-mile in the heavy snow with a sled in order to get him to an ambulance.
He was eventually taken to a Duluth hospital and rushed into emergency surgery.
Luckily, he was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash. He received a minor concussion but said without the helmet, he would be dead.
Along with that, the damage is extensive. Gary explains, "three broken vertebrae, 6 broken ribs, a bum shoulder, and a fractured thumb. It's really fortunate to come out with just that."
Leaving him in a wheelchair for the time being. "They say I'm going to be out of this wheelchair and I believe I will be."
Gary hopes to be out of a wheelchair in the next year and a half, though doctors have not given him an exact prognosis or timeline for recovery.
The family is spending Christmas in the recovery unit but is thankful to all be together.
Marnie said, "just been taking it one hour at a time, one day at a time ever since then."
The family has started a Go-Fund-Me account to help in Krueger's recovery. You can find that link here.