DAY TOWNSHIP — It’s been almost a year and a half since a logging accident changed Branden Peterman’s life forever.
Peterman, 35, of McBride, was crushed by a falling tree on Dec. 12, 2008, just four days after the birth of his third child.
The Day Township firefighter, logger, husband and father was immediately paralyzed from the chest down in the accident, leaving him in a wheelchair with little hope of walking again.
Now, a year and a half later, Peterman and his young family are learning to adjust to their new life with faith and determination.
The first goal the Petermans have had since the accident is building a new barrier-free house behind their current small modular home. Progress was moving smoothly for a while, with Chemical Bank approving the couple for a loan on the project.
However, after spending about $100,000 on the project Auto Owners Insurance dropped Peterman’s disability insurance, claiming three visits to a chiropractor over a lifetime proved the young logger and firefighter had a “pre-existing condition.”
Without insurance, Chemical Bank had to deny the loan, virtually halting the Petermans’ project half-done.
After months of negotiations, legal fees and rescheduled court appearances later, the Petermans are ready to move on — but the lawsuit still hangs over their heads. The judge is scheduled to rule on their case on June 21.
“It’s just disheartening,” Carrie said. “But as much as we try to plan things, we realize it’s not in our hands. It’s in God’s hands and he’s got everything under control.”
Different kind of normal
“It’s been a different normal,” Branden Peterman said. “It’s been a lot harder on Carrie than it’s been on me. I just sit around in a wheelchair. She has way more of a work load.”
Branden has gone back to work as much as possible — about four to six hours a day — buying timber for his family’s logging company. Carrie has to get up before Branden to help him get ready for work and on the road.
Add getting children around for school, and she’s got her hands full.
Carrie admits that sometimes her schedule as caregiver to a paralyzed husband and three young children, ages 8, 6, and 18 months, can be hectic.
“It’s a struggle providing for a family,” she said. “Sometimes I struggle, trying to find out what is my life.”
The children have learned to adjust to the “different normal,” learning that planned activities can change in an instant if their father needs assistance.
“But they’ve never complained once,” Carrie said. “They never say, ‘Oh, I can’t do this or that because of dad.’”
Branden is doing his best to return back to work on the farm, too, cutting 140 acres of hay this weekend on his tractor, outfitted to meet his special needs.
The work must go on
Though they have no financial backing from the bank, life in the Petermans’ modular home is next to impossible for Branden, as his power wheelchair is designed to work through areas at least five feet from any stationary object.
“There are so many things about this house that make everything 10 times harder,” Carrie said.
Volunteers from the Petermans’ church and neighborhood have pitched in free labor. This weekend, a church group from Indiana made a trip to McBride to spend their mission trip helping the Petermans install plumbing and electricity in the house.
“What’s out there is all volunteer work,” Branden said.
The barrier-free house will eventually include an elevator to help Branden go from floor to floor, wider rooms so he can maneuver around, handicapped-accessible bathrooms, switches at lower heights and a large garage so Branden can get in and out of vehicles without being exposed to the weather.
Without faith? Impossible
The Petermans are working on the final edit of a book about their experience, “A Logger’s Nightmare: Accident Forever Changes Family,” through Xlibris Press. They hope the book will bring some income to help pay for their home’s construction, but they’re mostly excited about the possibility to tell their story of survival and faith.
“Without faith, I don’t know how you’d do this,” Carrie said, thinking back on all her family has gone through. “Faith is what holds our marriage together. It’s what holds our family together.”