It wasn’t feasible to travel nearly 1,200 miles for a hamburger, but Pennsylvania resident Tim McDannell still wanted to help Assaria farmer Zach Short.
On Oct. 25, 2014, Short was severely shocked when he came into contact with a grain cart that had hit a 7,200-volt power line.
Short, then 24, was burned on more than 54 percent of his body and had to have both legs amputated, the left one above the knee. He wasn’t expected to live but ended up making a miraculous recovery. Now Short can walk again with the aid of prosthetic legs and has had tendon transfer surgery to help regain use of his left hand.
On the one-year anniversary of Short’s accident, his wife Jodi made a video detailing her husband’s long journey through recovery. McDannell, 41, who lives in the small Pennsylvania town of Biglersville, was forwarded the video by a cousin who thought McDannell and Short would have a lot in common.
They did. McDannell also came from a farm family — albeit, mostly Pennsylvania dairy farms, not Kansas wheat farms — and had suffered burns, although McDannell’s injuries were not nearly as severe as Short’s.
During a brush-burning in 2003, McDannell said, “Something twisted and I got a ball of flame in my face. Everything blistered but cleared up. My voice still goes in and out sometimes.”
Too far for a hamburger
McDannell and Short started corresponding on Facebook, and McDannell heard about all the fundraisers that had taken place to raise money for Zach’s medical expenses. These expenses have included travel to Newton and St. Louis for rehabilitation and Wichita to be fitted for prosthetic legs.
“I read about a fundraiser they were putting up at Wendy’s (in Salina), and I joked it was too far to come out for a hamburger,” McDannell said. “I thought I would figure out something to do at home.”
McDannell not only ended up donating $2,000 to Short, he flew to Kansas this week to help Short and his family with wheat harvest.
“We talked about the wheat harvest, so he invited me out to see the combines, and I decided to come,” McDannell said. “We have wheatfields in Pennsylvania, but they’re a lot smaller than here. Our whole farm up there is 100 acres.”
A surprise donation
McDannell raised $2,000 when he put his late wife’s collection of about 100 Longaberger handcrafted maple wood baskets into an auction in February. His wife died in her sleep in 2006 at age 29 from complications from an enlarged heart. They had no children, and McDannell never has remarried.
“When the $2,000 was raised, I wanted to send that to Zach,” McDannell said. “I’ve supported friends out here, whenever they need it, and I wanted to help Zach.”
Short said he was surprised when McDannell sent him a $2,000 check.
“He didn’t know me, so he could have kept the money for himself,” Short said. “I’m amazed someone so far away would care about someone else’s problems. You see all the bad stuff in the news and politics, and it makes you feel good there’s still giving people out there with good hearts. It’s awesome.”
Wary at first
Short’s mother, Lisa, said she was wary at first about some stranger from Pennsylvania flying to Salina to see her son, but her fears were soothed soon after McDannell arrived on Monday.
“I was unsure at first if it was a scam or something,” she said. “To think that someone from so far away would be so generous is unusual, but it seems to me that he’s a genuine person. To raise money like that, and then to come out here to see Zach goes beyond what most people would do.”
McDannell said he’s had a great time this week riding in combines and seeing how wheat is cut in Kansas fields.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I got out here, but it’s been worth the trip,” he said. “People are a lot different out here. Really friendly.”
McDannell also has liked getting to know Short and plans to stay in touch with him.
“He gets around really well,” McDannell said.
The men have even taken a ride in the very same grain cart that shocked Short nearly 20 months ago. The tires and rubber material that were melted by the electrical fire have been replaced, and it’s been given a new paint job. While the vehicle is in good working order now, Short said, “it still gives me goosebumps when I go back to it.”
“Just looking at the burns around my fingers, I can see where I jumped onto the ladder,” he said. “Every time I’m in the field and see a power line, even if it’s a mile away, I’m very, very careful now.”
Gary Demuth is a reporter with the Salina Journal.