REACH Stories

Tom Friemann

Returning to Life on the Ranch

Tom Friemann

It was a business-as-usual day at the TF3 Hunting Ranch in Moore, Texas, a rural town just southwest of San Antonio. Owner Tom Friemann, 77, was working outside on the beautiful 65-acre property, checking tasks off his list. With the exception of a bothersome sore throat, everything was going just fine—and it takes more than a sore throat to keep Tom down. As you’ll see, he has prevailed in the face of far greater discomfort.

Tom worked until about 5:30 that evening. By the time he got back to the house, his throat had gone from sore to quite painful. He thought a shower might help, but it didn’t, and before too long the pain spread into his chest and arms. Tom’s daughter called for an ambulance. Upon arrival, the paramedics put Tom on a stretcher inside the house, then one of them immediately went outside to make a call. When she came back in, Tom was quite surprised to learn she had requested a helicopter. “What for?” he asked. The paramedic looked at him and said, “You ain’t got but 10 minutes to live, boy.” As they spoke, a Methodist AirCare team was on the way.

Tom, a Korean War vet, has developed a solid grip on courage, tenacity and acceptance, and he has probably had more “nothing short of a miracle” experiences than anyone you’ll ever meet. Here are a few of them; fasten your seat belt:

While feeding cows, Tom slipped and fell. He was working 50’ above the ground, and he landed on his head.

To avoid an oil rig explosion, Tom went underneath the platform to close the blowout preventer, a valve that handles pressure and flow. The kickstand hit the soles of Tom’s feet and literally blew him out of his boots, which stayed in the heavy mud. Tom on the other hand landed 20 feet away.

During a solo road trip from Texas to Minnesota, the fuel line in Tom’s truck iced up. He removed the line and used a coat hanger to get the ice out. His arms became covered with gas in the process, and he found himself wishing he’d brought a light of some kind. Not thinking (or to use Tom’s words, “like a dumbass”), he struck a match. The truck caught on fire, and so did Tom. Fortunately, there was a snowbank nearby.

While digging gas tank installations, the hole in which Tom was working collapsed. At 20’ down, he was quickly buried alive. “I just knew I was going to die,” he remembers. There was a backhoe nearby. Tom’s helper had never driven one, but he figured this was a good time to start. His choice paid off.

Tom pauses to mention that the stories he’s shared so far “are not the really bad stuff.”

On a hunting trip for wild Russian boar hogs, which can weigh over 500 pounds, a particularly cranky hog bit off one of Tom’s fingers.

So that he could safely move a pump jack, Tom asked the electric company to turn off the power. Before he had completed the task, however, someone turned it back on. Tom was standing in water. The electrocution nearly killed him, and he felt like he had “pins and needles” in his feet afterwards. Although he couldn’t walk for about an hour, once he could he went right back to work. When he took off his boots that night, he discovered that the current had blown his toenails off.

In the course of doing some building repairs, Tom needed to install a huge bolt. He decided that he would guide the bolt into place while someone else ran the 19-ton hydraulic drill above. Somehow the drill got loose and fell, hitting Tom’s head. He held his severely-cracked skull together with both hands and told his son to get a bag of flour. Pouring that bag of flour over Tom’s head effectively stopped the bleeding. He wrapped a T-shirt around the injury and went back to work.

One humid day, Tom and his son were doing electrical work near the Guadalupe River. Tom remembers standing up in the basket, holding a piece of trim. His next memory is of coming to and hearing someone on the street say, “They’re dead. There’s no way they can be alive with 24,000 volts hitting them three times.” Tom’s son was hospitalized for three and a half months, but they both survived.

Tom has also beaten cancer and a MRSA infection, and although he was once told his right arm had to be amputated, he still has two arms.

Okay, you can unfasten your seatbelt. It’s time to get back to the ranch.

The Methodist AirCare aircraft. The Methodist AirCare aircraft.

Methodist AirCare pilot Karl Wellfare touched down in a field near Tom’s house. Also on board were Flight Nurse Bronson Smith and Flight Paramedic Zach Harman, who introduced themselves to Tom. Wasting no time, they quickly but carefully moved him onto their stretcher. “It was dark,” Tom remembers. “I don’t know how they really did it, but they got me in very, very gently.” The crew then loaded Tom into the craft and prepared him for immediate takeoff. “They did everything very carefully,” Tom remembers, “and they told me what they were doing at all times.”

Medic Zach Harman’s original career goal was to become a firefighter, but he had a change of heart while fulfilling a Fire Academy requirement. “They made me go to EMT school, which I really didn’t want to do at the time,” Zach admits. “They made me go—and I ended up falling in love with EMS!”

The very best place for Tom to receive the critical care he needed was at San Antonio’s Methodist Heart Hospital. Although Tom required defibrillation en route, he was safely delivered to the hospital by Karl Wellfare and crew. Tom thinks of them as his guardian angels. “They were just out of this world, you know? When we got there, they stayed with me until the doctors and nurses came. They were the best.”

Tom’s statement reflects Zach’s career motivation. “I chose flight medicine because I knew it was the best of the best,” he says. Zach, who lives in Canyon Lake and has been with Methodist AirCare since 2012, was a perfect fit for Tom. “Ventilator management and cardiac are my niches,” he explains. “I love working with patients who have complications. It makes you really think. The right care is so important.” Tom concurs. “Talk about taking care of people! I wish I could see them again just to give them a hug and shake their hands. They really were the best.”

At Methodist Heart, Tom received immediate, top-notch medical attention. He required defibrillation again—twice—but doctors were able to successfully place stents in his clogged arteries. Tom responded beautifully to their care. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before he wanted to get back to work. More than that, he wanted to get back to his wife of nearly 58 years, and to their family. “My wife’s name is Betty,” Tom says, a smile in his voice. “Sometimes I call her other things, but her real name is Betty.”

Tom and Betty met in 1956 while he was visiting Texas. (After returning from Korea, he had moved to Minnesota to be near his parents.) Tom chuckles, remembering, “When I came from Minnesota to Texas, gas was 17 cents a gallon!” Tom knew Betty was the one, but he had a few things to take care of before he could marry her. “I told her, I have to go back to Minnesota. My mom has a good job for me at Western Electric. But I’ll come back.” Betty was clearly skeptical, so Tom told her to name a date and promised to be there.

Fast forward to November 30th. In Minnesota, Tom loaded up his car. “My dad said, Butch, what are you doing? You can’t marry no foreigner! I said, she’s not a foreigner, she’s from Texas!” So his parents loaded up and went with him, and a wedding took place. Nine months later the Friemanns welcomed their first child, Arnold. They went on to parent five more children: Lisa, Vicky, Tommy Jr., Darla and Dana. Tom and Betty now have 12 grandchildren, as well as great and great great grandchildren.

As planned, Tom is back to enjoying life on the ranch. “Right now, I’m staring out my window,” he says, “and I’m looking at an elk and a stag.” When asked if there’s anything specific he’d like to tell the members of his flight crew, he takes a few moments to think about it. “Yeah,” he says, “you can tell them I love them. That’s about the best I can do. They’ve done so much for me. Just tell them I love them.”

 

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