Traumatic farm injury transforms Va. farmer
BURKE’S GARDEN, Va. — The Snapp Dairy located here in what Tazewell County describes as Virginia’s highest valley and Virginia’s largest rural historic district is a place where grass is king and for Rick Snapp, a fifth-generation farmer, miracles do happen.
“I have my own miracle,” he said, almost in a whisper. He prefaced what he shared by saying he had heard of people having experiences with angels, and he had kept an open mind about such claims.
Oct. 30, 2016 had been a fairly normal day on a farm, with Snapp separating about 100 calves from their mothers, putting the cows in a field about a mile away in one direction and the calves down the road in the opposite direction.
Later the family got a call from a neighbor that some calves were in the road. His son, Kalleb, went first on a four-wheeler and Snapp followed a few minutes later on another four-wheeler. Snapp said he did not expect to see any cattle in his path because his son had just passed along the road but suddenly a steer appeared directly in front of him and there was nothing he could do but hit it.
Snapp woke up in a Bristol, Tenn., medical center nearly a week later. A lot had happened while he was unconscious.
He was flown to the hospital. The left side of his face was crushed, and he had suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was placed on life-support after the Friday evening accident. On the following Monday, doctors called the family to the hospital to say goodbye as they believed discontinuing life support was the only thing to do.
As a family member stroked his arm and hand in what was thought to be goodbye, Snapp squeezed the person’s finger.
The doctor was summoned. Snapp was in surgery most of the next day as doctors worked to save his life.
What Snapp does remember of that time is the experience he said he had before he woke up in the intensive care unit on Thursday.
He said two angels appeared, one at each arm and carried him across the ICU, showing him each patient. He said he is sure if he ever meets one of the patients in person he’d be able to recognize them.
Then he said the angels took him back to his bed.
“It was like they laid me on my body,” he said.
Snapp told the story calmly in the same simple way he talked about farming, but with awe in his voice.
“It was a life-altering experience,” he said. “Before, all I thought about was work, work, work. The first thing I told them was to sell the milk cows.”
But his son would not hear to that. The young man, who will graduate from high school this spring, wanted to keep the cows. The family is currently milking about 75 Holstein cows in what Snapp described as “an old side open three stall” milking barn.
“It’s a little slow but we’re able to give more attention to the individual cow,” he said.
He said they have a parlor ready to be constructed if the milk market improves and he is even thinking about a robotic milker sometime in the future. He hopes to be able to keep the dairy his father and mother, Richard and Ruby started in 1956 but acknowledges it’s not a guarantee. His cousin who farms the family’s home place closed his dairy last year, Snapp said.
Snapp is cautiously optimistic, however, suggesting the milk market has bottomed out and on a slow path to improving.
Right now, he said, his beef cattle herd is supporting the dairy. He also has a contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation to clear snow from 26 miles of road winding through the valley.
The family’s beef herd, a cow/calf operation, consists of 550 Angus cows with a late spring calving season and marketing in December. Snapp said he tries to aim calving time to start when the snow pushing season is winding down in late March. He was clearing snow-clogged roads in April this year.
His cattle are grazing on “some of the best grass in the United States,” he said.
This place where grass is called king has an elevation of 3,074 feet at the top of the highest mountain and 2,900 feet at the floor of the valley. Temperatures usually range 10 degrees lower than those in the surrounding areas.
The Snapps farm about 1,500 owned and rented acres in “The Garden” where they grow 100 acres of corn for silage and graze as long as the weather permits.
Snapp’s workforce includes himself, his wife Selina, Kalleb and one employee, David Dalton. His dad, Richard, also helps out.
While his recovery included a long period using a walker and then a cane, Snapp is able to do much of what he did prior to the accident. He said no one could determine which steer he hit so no animal was hurt. He said he suffered from double vision in his left eye for a time but his sight returned to normal three days before Christmas Eve, nearly two months after the accident. He said he still suffers from dizziness from time to time and bad headaches.
“I’m more than thankful for what I am able to do,” he said.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925