Trials, faith response inspire couple to give
A 1,400-pound alfalfa bale fell on top of Ron Burbach while he was using a large machine on his farm near Hartington to grind hay bales into finer livestock feed.
"My pelvis was split open like a book, my ankle was turned to a 90-degree angle, and I had internal bleeding. I was in pretty bad shape," he said.
His wife, Janet, was working in Yankton, S.D., the day of Ron’s accident, and made it to that city’s Sacred Heart Hospital before he did. When he arrived he was conscious, but went into shock in the emergency room, she said.
"For three hours I had to wait while he was in surgery, with no one telling me, is he going to make it, is he not going to make it, so I prayed and prayed," she said.
Ron’s accident was the first of three life-changing tragedies the couple endured beginning in 2002. Through all of them, they found the strength to carry on through their Catholic faith and help from their community at Holy Trinity Parish in Hartington.
After extensive reconstructive surgery, Ron spent six weeks in the hospital on his back.
"I didn’t know at the time if I was going to be paralyzed," he said. "I had to wonder what I was going to do the rest of my life."
Six weeks after Ron’s accident, the Burbachs’ challenges were compounded when Janet was involved in a serious auto accident, breaking her back and requiring surgery and hospitalization at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D.
During their recovery, parishioners and other neighbors ran the farm, bringing in the harvest and caring for the cattle. "I still appreciate that today – neighbors helping neighbors," Ron said.
"When I think of the favors and the friends who came to visit us to reassure us that things are going to be okay, I’m very thankful."
The Burbachs’ gratitude for their parish community is one reason they are longtime donors to the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, which supports the archdiocese’s ministries, including 70 schools and their 20,000 students, marriage preparation and faith formation.
Their support this year includes sharing their faith story through the appeal’s communication materials (see advertisement PAGE 23) and video shown in parishes throughout the archdiocese.
Following their accidents, the Burbachs faced an uncertain future. "We knew then, that with both of us injured, we would no longer be farming," Janet said.
After much prayer and discussion, the couple decided to continue living on their farm, but rent out the land to other farmers, with Ron maintaining a business grinding hay for feedlots and dairies.
Ron’s recovery also gave him time to reflect on his faith.
"Thinking back, I was so busy farming, I wasn’t praying like I should. The accident woke me up to the fact that I had to get my life in order, start receiving the sacraments more often," he said.
"And to this day, I say a rosary every day," he said. "When that bale fell on me, I had a rosary in my pocket, and I feel that was part of my salvation. I was able to survive and I attribute that to having faith and having that rosary in my pocket."
Then in 2007 came the tragedy no parent wants to think about.
"It happened so fast," Ron said. "I had just come back from the hospital after having a total ankle replacement because of my earlier injury, so I was laid up at home."
Their daughter Janell, a sophomore at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, called saying she had been experiencing flu-like symptoms for a week, and came home to see her doctor.
Diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, she fell into a coma while in her doctor’s office, and was transported to Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton. She was later life-flighted to Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, to be treated by a neurologist.
That’s when the Holy Trinity Parish family jumped back into action, with parishioners setting up a prayer line. Their pastor at the time, Father John Pietramale, now pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes – St. Adalbert Parish in Omaha, offered Mass on Janell’s behalf.
Despite all the prayers, she was declared brain-dead the next day, Janet said. Again, their parish community offered support.
"Parishioners helped them go through their grief process," Father Pietramale said, "celebrating their daughter’s life and comforting them."
"In some ways, it was a very spiritual time, trying to find the light in times of darkness," he said.
And all of this only two weeks after the Burbach’s other daughter, Ronda, was married. "It was a happy time, then a very sad time, so it was tough," Ron said.
FAITH AND FAITH FAMILY INDISPENSABLE
"We’ve always trusted in God, and whatever crisis happened, we’d turn to prayer right away," Janet said. "I know you’re not supposed to be mad at God, and I wasn’t," she said, "but if I ever get to heaven, the first thing I’m going to ask God is, ‘why?’"
"There are crosses the Lord gives us that we have to carry, and some are bigger than others, and he gave us a pretty big one, but we got through," Ron said. "If it wasn’t for our faith, we wouldn’t have ever gotten through it. And having a faith family around kept us going."
For all the ways their family has benefited from their parish community, the Burbachs believe in giving back.
"Family helps family, and you need that in your parish too," Ron said. "It took the things that happened in my life to realize that if you have a hardship, there’s someone there to help you."
"We live among a lot of good people, and their prayers kept us strong," Janet said.
Both have been active in their parish through the years, including Janet’s service on the parish council and women’s guild, and as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, and Ron’s involvement in his Knights of Columbus council.
"We’re all part of one big family – the Catholic community here, and in the archdiocese," he said. "It’s about giving a part of yourself to help the cause – giving back to the community."