Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 4, 2004

Dave Marquardt: 25 years after accident, it's life as usual

By Jane Otto

A little more than 25 years ago, a curious toddler caught his arms in an auger on his family’s rural Waverly farm.

Just 21 months old at the time, Dave Marquardt remembers only what he’s been told about what would have been for many, a life-altering event.

But, for the now 26-year-old Marquardt, the past 25 years have been pretty much life as usual.

“As far back as I’ve ever known, this is the only way I’ve known things,” he said sitting at the kitchen table of his own farm place near Dog Lake.

With limited mobility of his right arm and a prosthetic left arm, Dave hasn’t let life pass him by.

A quick wit and strong faith enabled him to play four sports in high school, drive at 15, attend college ,and now, farm roughly 800 acres with his dad, Rod Marquardt.

“Not much stopped him,” his mom, Pat Marquardt, said. “After the accident, we thought ‘How are we going to do this?’ But David always figured out a way to do things. . . . He also learned to ask people.”

Laughing, she added, “He just about drove me nuts. He never sat still.”

A look back

That fated September day, a quarter century ago, is, most likely without question, a day Dave’s parents relived many times.

Looking back, Pat said, “You know you can get through this, but you just don’t want to. . . . It’s one of those things you wouldn’t wish on anybody. When you’d see him struggling, you’d think, ‘It’s not his fault.’”

Though Dave gets frustrated at times, he places blame with no one. “There’s probably a reason this happened,” he said.

He hadn’t even realized that 25 years had passed since that day.

It was nearing suppertime on Sept. 26, 1979, and Dave’s mom was busy in the kitchen.

An ever-inquisitive toddler, Dave followed his dad to the granary where he was taking out some corn.

“Curious George just got a little too close to the auger,” Dave said.

An auger is a screw-type device, which has rotating action that moves grain to and from a hopper.

The spinning device cut both his arms off above the elbow.

Whisked away to University of Minnesota hospital, Dave had his right arm reattached. Pat recalled the surgeon commenting that this was only the second time he performed such a surgery on a child that young.

“They weren’t hopeful,” Pat said of the doctors. “They would have done things differently today.”

Doctors kept Dave’s arm in a fixed position and waited approximately a year to make sure his arm healed properly before doing a nerve graph.

After “reimplanting” the nerves, doctors said it would be at least a year before Dave would have feeling. “They said it would take about a year and it did,” Pat said. “By 3 1/2, he started to pick things up.”

It was only three or fours months after the accident, that doctors began fitting Dave for a prosthesis.

“No one really showed him how to use it,” Pat recalled. “It was so new for someone that age to have one.”

About a year later, the Marquardts traveled to St. Paul, where at Gillette Children’s Hospital, Dave learned how to use his prosthesis.

“He really made headway after that,” his mom said.

Up until that time, Dave did everything with his feet, Pat said, even building with Legos.

Dave couldn’t specifically remember doing that, but said, “When the arms are full, off come the shoes and I open the door with my foot. So, there’s some dexterity, but I don’t think I can put Legos together anymore.”

Actually, Dave remembers little about his early childhood, the frequent hospital visits and his adaptive ways.

“I don’t really remember anything until I was 5,” he said, “which is fine.”

No special treatment

Dave, however, can remember receiving no preferential treatment from his parents, teachers, or coaches.

He laughed and added, “Ask my brother and sister and they might not think so.”

Dave has two younger siblings, Jenny, 24, and Ryan, 21.

“He really didn’t get special privileges,” his mom said. “I can’t say we did more for him than the other two.”

Growing up on a farm meant no sleeping in and chores for all, he said. “I had the same chores as other kids.”

Dave recalled a typing class while at Holy Trinity High School.

He described his typing skills as being of the “hunt-and-peck” variety. “I use the hook for the space bar and my right hand for typing. I’m certainly not very fast. If I’m going to have a long conversation, it’s not going to be over e-mail. It’ll probably be over the phone.”

Despite that, he averaged 20 words a minute in his high school class, which he mistakenly thought would earn him a C-plus grade.

Smiling, he said, “I didn’t get that grade. I didn’t get any advantages.”

No quitter here

Little or no special treatment possibly aided Dave’s “I-can-do-that” mind-set.

“Whatever he wanted to try he did,” his mom said.

Pat wasn’t certain how her son would manage driving, but “he turned 15 and he was driving,” she said. “He just figured out ways to do it differently.”

That attitude prompted Dave to participate in four sports while at Holy Trinity High School — track, cross country, basketball, and football.

“I don’t know if I was any good in them,” he said with a smile.

As the Trojans’ place kicker in his senior year, Dave said, “It was the one position I didn’t have a disadvantage at, I guess.”

As for his high school basketball career, he said, “I was riding pine and serving water more than anything else.”

His coach, Dean Neumann, saw it differently. Though Dave’s playing time was limited to lopsided games, he had to perform like his peers, Neumann said.

“He was expected to catch and dribble like anybody else,” Neumann said. “But, if Dave had a (scoring) opportunity, he would let it fly, no doubt about it.”

Other than the two years Marquardt spent at Ridgewater College, he has coached basketball at Holy Trinity since graduating from there. During the past six years, he’s coached ninth-grade boys, varsity girls, and sixth-grade boys.

“He continues to be a big asset to our basketball program,” Neumann said. “He has a true understanding of the game and how it’s played.”

Fellow coaches cut Dave little slack. “Dave takes his share of kidding,” Neumann said. “If the kids don’t shoot well, we’ll blame Dave.”

On the farm

Fortunately for Dave, basketball season doesn’t conflict with his other love, farming.

After graduating from Holy Trinity in 1996, Marquardt attended Ridgewater, where he completed a two-year program in farm management.

As a child, he often played with tractors in the sandbox, his mom said. “He always took an interest in what was going on here.”

Together, he and his dad farm approximately 800 acres and raise hogs and beef cattle.

“I own some land and he owns some,” Dave said.

Whenever they purchase farm equipment, the Marquardts keep Dave’s scope of abilities in mind.

Primarily, they stick with John Deere, Dave said. “They’re easier to handle and shift gears and all the controls are on the right side.”

Planting and harvest seasons will find Dave not only doing his own field work, but lending a hand to friends and neighbors.

Eventually, he wants to concentrate more on a side hobby that involves helping horse owners with their hay production.

“They know horses, but they usually know little about making hay,” Dave said.

For the most part, Dave’s future includes coaching, farming, and renovating the farmhouse he bought the past summer.

“Keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve got no wild plans.”

Whatever the future brings Dave, his resiliency will see him through.

Reflecting on her son’s adaptability and independence, Pat said, “He’s always been so adventuresome — checking it out, seeing how things work . . . part of it is God’s willingness to help him . . . part of it is his personality.”

Dave also sees faith as an important component to enduring what life hands him.

“I couldn’t get through life on my own,” he said, adding with a smile, “There’s plenty of times I ask for help from above.”

Humor, too, is an essential item in Dave’s survival kit.

A casual observer would note that he has apparently adapted fairly well after his accident because he’s farming today. In response to such an observation, Dave’s humor shined.

He simply replied, “It’s either that or I never learned my lesson.”

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