Butterfield Overcomes Life Threatening Injury to Fulfil Lifelong Dream
Life for Chance Butterfield changed in an instant in early August.
“I never took life for granted to begin with,” Butterfield said as he reflected on an incident in which he was kicked in the chest by his horse. “Now that I have been through it, I know that I am not invincible and need to be a little more cognitive of the things that I do.”
Butterfield is a professional steer wrestler who is making his first trip to the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton this week; it’s been a lifelong dream. At the time of the incident, his focus had shifted from just making the CFR to pursuing a season-leader title.
“After Edmonton (K-Days Rodeo) I still caught cheques and was heading that direction,” he said. “I had all the confidence and was able to sit back, enjoy rodeo and just be able to go compete and have fun. My main goal was going to be achieved. I had all the confidence in the world, and it was a really good feeling.”
On Aug. 2 at the High Prairie Rodeo, things changed for Butterfield. During the fireworks display, his horse connected with a powerful kick.
“When I got kicked, I hit the ground, and I knew from how hard and where I was kicked that there was a good chance that there could be some real damage,” Butterfield said. “I rolled onto my back. I was instantly short of breath and had pain in my upper left quadrant of my chest. I was trying to control my breathing to see if I could get longer breaths but couldn’t.”
As a man of faith, Butterfield prayed in those few minutes immediately after the accident.
“I made my peace with God,” he said. “Then my focus shifted to fighting to stay alive.”
His friends and other people at the rodeo provided support and care until the ambulance arrived to transport him.
It was only after one doctor advocated for him to get to the front of the line for an urgent CT scan at the High Prairie Hospital that they knew the magnitude of the injuries including a ruptured spleen. Because of internal bleeding, Butterfield’s blood pressure dropped. The team worked frantically to pump more blood into him.
“All the voices in the room just started dying out and everything started getting really quiet,” Butterfield said. “It was getting bad, and I knew it. I wasn’t scared or anything. I just knew that it was what it was and that those guys were working to save me.”
When he regained consciousness, he was receiving the much-needed blood. He was then transferred by air to Grande Prairie Hospital, where he was under the care of Dr. Richard Beekman, a community general surgeon who often deals with emergency trauma situations.
“I think I received the first phone call around 2 or 3 in the morning about his injuries,” Beekman said. “Pretty much the only thing I could say is, ‘Send him to Grande Prairie as soon as you can.’ ”
Grande Prairie Hospital is home to the largest trauma centre north of Edmonton. The “golden hour,” as Beekman referred to it, is the ideal time after a trauma for a patient to get medical attention. In northern Alberta, it can take much more time to arrive at a centre equipped to fully deal with the injuries.
While in High Prairie, not only did a CT scan reveal the ruptured spleen, but he was given Transexamic Acid, a medicine that is used to prevent excessive blood loss. Then he was flown to Grande Prairie through the fog.
“The weather was not cooperating at that point in time” Beekman said. “Even when he came in at about 6 oclock in the morning, the fog was so bad that fixed wing was barely able to land. When he got to our hospital he was in the operating room about 45 minutes later.”
The surgery was to remove Butterfield’s spleen because it had suffered a severe laceration.
“Really, if it wasn’t for the Transexamic Acid and the units of blood that he received, he probably would not have made it,” Beekman said. “I think in total he got 12 units of blood, which is about one and a half times his body’s blood volume. So, he lost more than his entire blood volume and most of it had happened between the time of his injury and him coming to Grande Prairie.”
All the while, Butterfield’s friends and the medical team worked to keep his wife, Kenda, informed of what was happening as she drove from Ponoka to Grande Prairie. Kenda is a Physiotherapist who runs Vantage Physiotherapy, an award-winning clinic offering various services for recovery and wellness in Ponoka.
“The next thing I remember after surgery was being rolled into my room and was intubated,” Butterfield said. “I remember looking up and seeing my wife and my sister, Brook. They told me everything that happened. I had broken ribs, a bruised pancreas and heart, my heart actually mimicked a heart attack, and then, of course, I had my spleen removed.”
One of Butterfield’s first questions for the medical team was if and when he could return to rodeo.
“The answer from the surgeon was ‘no,’ which made sense and wasn’t any surprise,” he said. “In my mind and my wife’s mind, we said whatever we can do to rebound safely and whatever opportunities we have, we are going to utilize and see where we are.”
With his wife’s help, Butterfield was walking the afternoon following surgery. Over the course of the six days in hospital – including three days in intensive care – he continued to walk multiple times a day, and the couple was impressed with how things were going that first week.
“I got home, and I had to work,” he said. “I needed to work on my lungs because I wasn’t able to take deep breaths. I had to get my breathing capacity back and then walking every day was the first step. I couldn’t believe how exhausted I got walking down to the end of the horse pens. I had so much foreign blood in me and it’s not as efficient as your own and stays in your body for a long time.
“A couple of weeks sitting at home, the pain was starting to disappear, then I was able to get up. My wife hated my laugh for a good month because it sounded like the most condescending laugh because I couldn’t laugh from my belly like a normal person (due to the broken ribs).”
His focus was in not wasting days as he continued to recover at home. Prior to his incident, he was 197 pounds. After surgery and with inflammation from blood and trauma, his weight increased to 220 pounds. In less than six days, he was down to 176.
“I had a goal and wanted to try to be healthy and throwing a steer by October,” he said. “Originally I was told, ‘No that’s not possible.’ But a couple of weeks in, (Dr. Beekman) said that he thought I had a pretty decent chance. I stayed in contact with him, and he has been amazed by the recovery that we had. I had my goal set and just made sure that each day I worked towards it. That was really good for me.”
Butterfield’s recovery has been quite remarkable in the eyes of his medical team. Beekman identified his age, level of fitness and his competitiveness as the key factors.
“Not many people would try this, and I think he did it in a very logical fashion,” Beekman said. “I know that it’s not easy to qualify for the Canadian Finals Rodeo, and I understand that this is the first year that he qualified. Because he qualified, that gave him the extra push.
“Recovery from surgery is not a straight forward process. Usually common sense is the best guide. He started by physical recovery and being fit. Then he started with light exercise and all along his body was telling him that it’s okay. And if he was not feeling well he had to back off. He gradually increased his limits and then finally he has been working with cattle again, which to me has been completely amazing.”
Being mentally focused on the goal and returning to routine was helpful for Butterfield, but there were some struggles in those first few weeks.
“When I was in the hospital, I was on morphine and the reality didn’t really sink in until I was off the pain meds,” Butterfield said. “I remember when I walked in my house, the gravity of the situation and what happened hit home. I am grateful that I am alive, obviously. A lot of people don’t have a second chance.”
Beekman had his own reflections on the situation.
“He’s a story that kind of typifies how things progress around rodeo here,” he said. “You are not working in major centres rather going around to small communities. Small communities don’t necessarily have the best trauma centres. So just the fact that he has made it is an indication of the medical system working for him. But at the same time, it is an indication of just how precarious things can become. Had the plane not been able to land, had he been just a little more unstable or had the medication not worked, that would have had a completely different outcome for him.”
Kenda Butterfield kept a close watch on her husband.
“I know that people were telling Kenda to keep an eye on me because after big wrecks like this, people can get some hang ups,” Chance Butterfield said. “I was starting to with the wreck and the procedure. It hit home, and I really had to lean on my wife. Kenda was there to help me so much. I was so uncertain about things for a little while and she gave me a lot of confidence.”
While there has been plenty of support from family and friends, he also visited with a minister and found solace in his faith. He also realized how important it is to have someone to talk to about his incident.
“I think about three weeks post-surgery everything was back to 100 percent,” he said. “I am pretty sure that it affected me mentally, but I can guarantee you that it was just as hard, if not harder, on my family.
“I had my goal to be jumping steers by the 15th of October and beat that by a week. My surgeon, Dr. Beekman, said he would put the video of that on the website because there is no handbook for recovery from a splenectomy. I have been ahead of the game on everything. I was released to go to the gym one month post-surgery, and my upper body strength is back where it was before.”
Butterfield’s recovery has been a strong statement about what is possible.
“I think what’s unique about Chance is that his normal life is a pretty amped up adrenaline rush,” Beekman said. “I think one of the things about being a cowboy in the rodeo circuit is that there is no predictability to it. Whereas the rest of us would have a pretty good indication of what level of fitness we need or what abilities we need. When you are jumping off a horse to wrestle a steer, I don’t think there is an easy way of measuring the amount of force or fitness you need or exactly what you are going to encounter in a given day. To be ready for those kinds of challenges within three months of having a major laparotomy for trauma … I think that’s pretty amazing.”
Butterfield has also faced his fears, including working with Lola, the mare that kicked him. It has been an important part of the process.
“I am riding Lola at the CFR,” he said. “The first thing that I did when I got home was walk down to the pen where she was and just mess with her a little bit. I just knew that after a wreck like that, I needed to just face everything, go back in head first and not let any kind of uncertainty take hold.”
In fact, working with Lola has become a main focus in preparing for the CFR. He’s made sure the mare is being exercised and that he’s taking the right steps to have them both prepared for the championship.
“I am going into the CFR confident,” Butterfield said. “The biggest thing is if I can get my horse dialed in, I have 100 percent confidence in what a guy can do. I am not too worried about it.”
Spiritual connection and staying connected has been of huge benefit throughout this whole experience.
The verse that Butterfield references is Romans 5:3-4, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
“When something bad likes this happens, I remember that it could have been so much worse,” he said. “I mean just recently the rodeo community suffered the loss of one of our young cowboys, and I can’t imagine what that family is going through. I just know that with a wreck like this and being lucky enough to see another day, you can take an opportunity like this and can make it into something that will make you stronger and build your character and make you more resilient – not just yourself but your family and your friends. It’s one of those opportunities that sucks. I was fortunate to be alive but I believe that as a person you can become a little bit stronger.”
It is also clear to Butterfield that stigma continues to be a barrier for people struggling with mental health issues.
“At the end of the day, it is something negative in a person’s life that has made me stronger,” Butterfield said. “I have no shame about it whatsoever and I can be proud to say that I have bounced back now.”
Experiencing a traumatic event can affect people psychologically in addition to physical injury. Knowing things that can be done after a traumatic event and when to reach out for professional support can be helpful in navigating the experience.
“When it comes to trauma, resilience is the rule rather than the exception” said Alycia Chung, a registered psychologist and certified sex addiction therapist at the Edmonton Clinic of Naturopathic Medicine. “The key is to face your emotions rather than bury them. After a traumatic event, you may feel stressed, fearful and angry. You may react strongly to reminders of the incident and desire to avoid these painful reactions altogether. Physically, you may experience difficulties sleeping, concentrating, and feel ‘on edge.’ You may think that it’s a sign of weakness to admit these feelings and try to stuff them down. “
“Unfortunately, these are the behaviours and thoughts that cause PTSD. When you avoid reminders of the trauma, you rob yourself of the opportunity to test the evidence behind your fears and only strengthen the fear response. Real strength is found in being tough enough to talk about the details of your experience – to be able to confide in your support system and acknowledge the reality of what you’re going through.”
The outlook that a person has is also significant. She said that a lack of hope for recovery is one of the biggest barriers to making progress after a traumatic event. It’s important the those suffering surround themselves with people who believe they can get better.
The term “self-care” can mean different things to different people. In the days and weeks following a traumatic event, it is important to take good care of oneself.
“It can be helpful to practice self-care such as ensuring proper nutrition, getting as much physical exercise as your body can tolerate, and surrounding yourself with situations and people that bring you comfort and/or joy,” Chung said. “Depending on your injuries, you may feel frustrated with your current limitations, so please be kind to yourself. Healing is a process and shame only hinders your progress.”