Hunting Accident Leads to Memorable Mayo Experience #ThrowbackThursday

This post was originally published in the "In the Loop" blog.

The following story was told by Gary and Virginia Chalberg of Kingman, Arizona, who were visiting family at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix. While there, Gary, 84, asked if he could share the story of his dad’s first patient experience at Mayo Clinic in 1939.

It was a bright October day in western Minnesota, where word was that the pheasants were plentiful. The weather was uncharacteristically balmy. As the story goes, Ed Chalberg and his brother-in-law Judd Botko had planned a trip from Minneapolis to the grasslands near Willmar, Minnesota, in hopes of bagging their limit of birds during the waning days of Minnesota's pheasant hunting season.

The year was 1939.

After a successful day of hunting, Ed and Judd were loading their gear back into their car for the drive home. In what both men described as a "freak accident," Judd's 12-gauge shotgun accidently discharged, striking Ed in both legs as he sat in the driver's seat. Judd passed out next to him.

Ed knew he was on his own to get help. He removed his belt to fashion a tourniquet around his severely bleeding left leg. He managed to remove the belt from his still-unconscious brother-in-law's waist for use on his right leg. Family later reported that Ed, a fastidious man known for his work as a carpenter, had the presence of mind to clear away debris from the inside of the car.

Adrenaline kicked in as Ed started the car and sped toward help. His goal was to reach Mayo Clinic's campus in Rochester—more than 150 miles away—in what would become his first-ever encounter with the facility. Once inside the emergency room at Saint Marys Hospital, Ed was quickly attended to.

The prognosis was not good. Ed was told that due to the severity of his injuries, both of his legs likely would need to be amputated. Ed wasn't having it, and he asked his wife Eleanor to promise to not grant doctors permission to amputate his legs. His care team honored his wishes and, it seems, used maggots to clean the wounds on his legs so infection would not set in. They then performed the meticulous act of removing the shotgun pellets that had ravaged Ed's legs.

It was a long recovery for Ed. He began physical therapy at Mayo Clinic with Sister Elizabeth Kenny, whose past successes in using hot compresses and physical therapy on the legs of otherwise paralyzed patients had become well-known. And after Sister Kenny administered that treatment on Ed's legs, his stiffness and temporary paralysis improved.

Family members who still recall details of the accident insist that Sister Kenny deserves much of the credit for Ed's recovery, which allowed him to resume his work as a carpenter (and become a championship horseshoe player). Sister Kenny, whose treatment methods helped revolutionize the care of polio patients, went on to start a clinic in Minneapolis that would become known as the Sister Kenny Institute.

The family moved on, as well. In fact, we're told, "The incident was never mentioned again."

Until now, of course.

Alyssa Frank

Alyssa Frank is a Marketing Segment Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. She leads marketing strategies for product management and specialty testing. Alyssa has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2015.