After enjoying dinner, wine and conversation at a friend's house, Tom Dieckmann stepped into his Land Rover, clicked the seat belt and started the engine. After turning on the headlights he began driving home on Sutter County's back country roads. Driving faster than he should have been in the late dark night, Dieckmann missed a stop sign at a dead end, crossed the road and crashed head-on into a large oak tree. The front of the SUV burst into flames, with Dieckmann trapped inside.
By the time CHP officers arrived the fire had already gutted the dash and the passenger side of the car. The officers tried to put out the flames to get to Dieckmann. But they couldn't open the driver's side door. The fire department arrived and placed one of their duty jackets over Dieckmann to shield him from the flames. Next they used the jaws-of-life to remove the Land Rover's roof. Emergency responders pulled Dieckmann out and life flighted him to Sutter Roseville Medical Center's Trauma Center.
Dieckmann, a robust 64-year-old, owns an organic farm in Yuba City that supplies fruits and vegetables to 20 farmers' markets in Northern California. In the spring, his farm harvests cherries, apricots, peaches, pluots, nectarines, tomatoes, watermelons and cantaloupes. In the fall, the harvest includes broccoli, cabbage, beets, carrots, walnuts and pecans.
When he's not busy with the farm, Dieckmann is also a golf enthusiast who enjoys playing a couple times a week at the local courses. He also likes being with family and friends. But now, his injuries from the crash were so severe, his family wondered if he would survive.
Dieckmann suffered burns on his arms along with extensive injuries: two fractured femurs, a fractured pelvis, two punctured lungs and nine broken ribs.
Upon the helicopter's arrival, the trauma team at Sutter Roseville Medical Center raced into action. A team of physicians treated Dieckmann's broken bones and burned arms by first they placing steel rods into each of his legs from hip to foot. Surgeons put another three steel rods in his right foot. Later physicians performed more surgeries and skin grafts to help the skin on Dieckmann's burned arms.
Dieckmann was eventually discharged to a skilled nursing facility where he had to heal from his surgeries before beginning rehabilitation that would teach him how to perform daily living activities all over again. By the time he was admitted to Sutter Rehabilitation Institute, Dieckmann had been medically cleared for weight bearing convalescence. He had thick black "walking boots" fitted on his wounded feet and legs.
It took two full days to control Dieckmann's blood pressure so that he could stand up without passing out. After that, Dieckmann's typical day at Sutter Rehabilitation Institute was to wake up, get dressed, wheel to the dining area for breakfast, and then begin speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
Speech therapists helped Dieckmann recover from having a tracheotomy when he was in the medical center's Trauma Neuro Unit. In physical therapy sessions, the therapists helped Dieckmann walk again by harnessing Dieckmann in a special lift that hoisted him upright to practice taking small steps.
Occupational therapists helped prepare Dieckmann for living back at home with his injuries. The therapists worked on strengthening the muscles in his arms for using the toilet, showering, shaving and teeth brushing. He practiced fixing meals in the Institute's kitchen to prepare for cooking for himself at home.
After four weeks at the Institute, Dieckmann could walk, with the help of a walker, from his room to the dining area. Although he still tired easily, Dieckmann was finally physically ready for home.
Now at home, Dieckmann continues therapy but on an out-patient basis at Sutter Roseville's inpatient therapy department. He also tries to manage the paperwork the farm generates with orders, bill of sales, etc. His son, Tommy, has taken over the other farm duties until Dieckmann fully recovers.
Currently Dieckmann can take care of himself and can get around his home without help. He's even starting to work a little on the farm. Although he wishes recovery would come a little faster, Dieckmann also knows how far he's come. He's looking forward to building his strength to work more and to getting back on the golf links. This summer is for recovery, he says. Next summer will be for golf.