Friday Q&A with AJ Ochoa: Two-Way Street
May 31, 2019
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Friday Q&A with Jeff Potter: The Road to Recovery

This week for our Q&A, we interviewed Jeff Potter, one of our customers, about his unique story within agriculture and his road to recovery after he was diagnosed with a debilitating illness. Jeff was great to talk to, and has a story that is inspirational for anyone in any industry.


Q: Hi Jeff, thanks for doing this Q&A. It sounds like your story really caught the eye of one of our reps, and we wanted to share it with our community. To start, I just wanted to get your background on farming.

A: Well, I guess my background in farming is that it’s pretty much what I’ve done my entire life. I grew up in Valparaiso, Nebraska, which is north of Lincoln. Uncles and grandparents farmed. That’s kind of where we got our start through 4H and FFA, and that’s kind of the history of it. We went to Southeast Community College in Beatrice for secondary education, and then we ended up in southern Nebraska in 1995.

Q: Wow, what a history! So you had been farming for a while. We had heard that you had been diagnosed with an illness. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

A: Well, at the time, I was farming… Basically, how it started is, I was riding on the tractor and I began to have leg seizures or tremors, and something didn’t seem quite right, so I started doctoring. Probably 6 to 8 months later was diagnosed with spinal AVM with a fistula.

Q: It sounded like from what I had heard that you had had to put farming on hold to take care of it. Can you talk a little bit about that and how it affected your work?

A: Right. Well, the farming end of it didn’t stop too much, I guess. I just was gone for just a little bit. We had some hired help. At the time we had just over 400 momma cows, and things weren’t just going real perfect because of health reasons, but calving season was coming on, and at the time I only thought I was going to be gone for just a short time. We’d go get it fixed and be back, and nothing would really change.

Q: What did that road to recovery look like for you?

A: When I was first diagnosed, we wanted to know where we needed to go. We couldn’t handle it locally here in Carney. Their suggestion was that I go to a medical center in Denver, and the doctor out there did an exploratory surgery. He said, you’re either going to have an aneurysm, or the outcome is just not going to be very good, and pretty bleak actually, and, of course, we chose surgery and they actually put some titanium clips on these veins. My fistula was located at the base of my brain and kind of intertwined around my brain stem and cerebellum, and that’s why I was basically having leg tremors, and it was kind of one of those deals, you walk across a flat yard and tip over because your left leg would forget to move. So it made things kind of pretty scary for a while, but I guess we stayed optimistic that we were going to get right back to doing what we were wanting to be doing and, after surgery, my doctor who did the surgery, he came in and said we’re going to show you how to walk. And of course, I kind of got a little irate, and said “what do you mean you’re going to show me how to walk?” Well, he was completely right, the surgery was more invasive than they thought. My left leg was, you know, you could move it, but you couldn’t tell it how to walk or run or anything like that. So, I was in Denver for almost a full month learning how to walk again and just pretty much stayed optimistic, but I was going home and worried about everything at home because we were going to have our first calving. I just had my surgery on the 13th of January, and calving was going to start in February. So the cow guy, or the farmer in me said, man I have to get home, they can’t do this without me, and basically left the hospital a little bit on the early side, and came home under my own strength. He basically said I could leave if I could walk out, so I found the will to walk and came home. I sure couldn’t do anything, but I was home. We had home health care, and I went to physical therapy for almost four months every day and we got to where I could walk. I do still have what they call a drop foot, so, my ankle or the bottom of my foot doesn’t flex like it should, and so, I kind of stumble around a little bit. But, we’re back to doing what we like to do. The cows had to leave for a while, because I couldn’t handle it, but back in 2011 or something like that, we went back to taking care of cows again, and have just been charging forward ever since.

Q: So, how has your business grown over the last 5 years, and what does it look like recently?

A: Well, I’m married again, and have two kids. We have a three year old and a two year old. I rest on my wife quite often to help out. She’s a full time school teacher, but our operation has kind of gone more to concentrating on putting up hay, and that end of it, because physically, I can handle that a lot better. We got the opportunity to take on cows again, and we took on that opportunity. We calve 140-head right now, half being in the fall, and half being in the spring, and just really love that aspect of it, but really like doing the hay operation also. We still have some very large seed lots. We do grind and deliver. But, we pretty much bail year round. We put up in between 10,000 to 12,000 bails of corn stalks through the winter, and then whatever we bail through the summer. So, we’re really probably busier now than we were when I was by myself in 2006.

Q: That’s great to hear! So, having gone through a struggle yourself, what message would you have for any other farmers going through any kind of struggle, or a similar struggle on their end?

A: Well, whether it’s physical or mental, whatever it is, just staying optimistic. You know, you have to keep that “I can do it” attitude. I’ll be the first to say that I’ve had lots of help. The first, being my wife. We couldn’t make it without her, because she physically does a lot more than I can do sometimes, and takes care of the kids, and has a full time job, and that sort of thing. But, if you want to farm, and be in agriculture, there’s always a way to figure it out. I think it was in 2013 or something like that I got acquainted with an organization called AgrAbility which is basically an organization that comes in and if you have some physical limitations, let’s say, you need a lift on your tractor because you’re wheelchair bound, or something like that, they both financially and emotional support, show you how you can still do that, still do what you like doing, and still be productive in agriculture.

Q: Yeah! That was one of the things we wanted to ask about. What does AgrAbility mean to you? Obviously it was a big help in that sense that they were willing to provide that assistance during a hard time. Could you talk a little bit about how other people can get involved to support the organization, or any other thoughts you may have about them?

A: Well, it’s a tremendous organization. They’re kind of a subsidiary or a spin off or the Easterseals. They just concentrate on ag, or ranching. Some of my limitations are walking across the field. In that case they could help with an ATV. Something they helped me out with is when the helped me to purchase our first Hydrabed to feed cows. To be honest, I use that Hydrabed for way more things than just feeding cows. But for AgrAbility, they have a great staff there that’s understanding and willing to help if they can in any way.

Q: Well, thanks a lot, Jeff. That should be good for us! You have a unique story and it’s awesome to hear about your recovery. Hearing an inspirational story like this can be the thing some people may need to hear to keep going and find success. I appreciate you doing taking the time.

A: Oh yeah, absolutely. Glad I could help.

Next week we will be back with another Q&A. Stay up to date and learn more from our valuable resources at www.AmericanEFS.com/The-Bottom-Line