He knew he had to fight to stay conscious and not pass out in the cornfield that he had been clearing for his father in Smithville, N.Y.
“I kept telling myself: ‘Don’t fall asleep. You can’t give up. You’ve got to stay focused and get through this,’ ” he said.
Several days after the accident that nearly took his life, Flanagan, 30, wept in his hospital bed during a phone interview as he expressed his gratitude for those who rescued him and the thousands who have overwhelmed his family with love and support.
“I have a hard time finding the right words. I’m beyond grateful,” he said. “They’re motivating me to keep going. Even though it’s a tough time, there’s no way I’m going to sit around and feel sorry for myself. There are too many people that I need to thank.”
Residents of the Upstate New York farming communities of Smithville, Greene and Flanagan’s city of Binghamton have rallied to raise more than $200,000 so far through a GoFundMe account for Flanagan and his family.
Flanagan and his wife, Lindsay, work as registered nurse anesthetists at separate hospitals in the area. In July, Lindsay Flanagan is due to deliver their third child, who will join their children Dylan, 3, and Madilyn, 1.
“We know they must be feeling a lot of stress, and we wanted to help take away some of that worry,” said Jodie Howell, one of the fundraiser’s organizers.
Lindsay Pine, who is also helping with the fundraiser, said she has been stunned by Flanagan’s optimism.
“He’s been making us feel better,” Pine said.
The morning of the accident, Flanagan made the 30-minute trip from Binghamton to the family farm in the Greene-Smithville area, where he grew up.
Although his father, Mike, is no longer in the dairy farming business, he rents a pasture to grow corn for a few goats, pigs and cows he still owns. Flanagan had planned to spend the day helping his dad clear the field of old corn, so they could plant a new crop.
It was 11:30 a.m., he said, when the old harvester he was pulling behind his tractor became clogged with errant stalks.
“I got off the tractor and pushed a little on the stalks, something I’ve done a thousand times before,” Flanagan recalled. “But somehow, I happened to get in the wrong spot, and the machine grabbed me by my coveralls.”
As a registered nurse, he knew that once his legs were pulled into the two shafts of the machine that he could easily bleed to death unless he could summon help. His cellphone had been sucked into the machine.
“I screamed for help for 45 minutes, and finally my dad came back to where we’d been working,” he said. “I told him to call 911, but he was really traumatized at finding me like that.”
Flanagan asked his father to bring him his phone, and he dialed 911 himself, making sure to tell the dispatcher to send a four-wheel-drive vehicle to the field and call for a medical helicopter.
Ken Whitmore, Smithville’s volunteer fire chief, was the first on the scene and immediately recognized his former high school classmate.
“It was the worst call I’ve been on in my 20-year career,” said Whitmore, 36. “It was such a horrible situation, and yet, Travis remained calm. All I could think was that I had to do everything possible to get him out of there alive.”
Lindsay Flanagan arrived at the scene and said she didn’t want to let go of her husband’s hand as she told him how happy he’d made her throughout their 10 years together.
“I knew that his injuries were bad, but I didn’t know to what extent, because he was covered up,” she said. “I just wanted to give him my love and hope. I told him how much the kids loved him, and that we’d all get through this together.”
When he was finally rescued from the 1970s-era harvester after about three hours, Flanagan was flown to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse for surgery.
“I was able to have a bilateral, below-the-knee amputation, which will make it easier for prosthetics,” Flanagan said.
One day after surgery, he was able to transfer himself into a wheelchair, he said, and now he has given himself the goal of standing with prosthetics in time for his child’s birth in July.
His family has no doubt he’ll do it.
“Travis is too stubborn to let this get him down,” said Tom Flanagan, who works as a physical therapist and plans to help get his brother moving again.
Another brother, Trevor, 34, who spent a lot of early mornings milking cows with his brothers when they were kids, said he’ll also be there to help.
Two days after his accident, Flanagan posted a “thank you” on Facebook to friends and more than a few strangers who have rallied to help.
“No words will ever describe how grateful I am to everyone that participated in my extrication and the care involved in the whole process,” he wrote.
“I do have a long road ahead but I am setting goals and I will achieve them,” he wrote. ” … And I will be back at home with my family….doing what I love being a Dad, husband, brother, son and friend.”
He burst into tears, he said, when Lindsay received permission to bring their two children to the hospital for a visit.
“Dylan pulled the blanket off my legs and said, ‘This is your ouchie,’ then gave me a hug,” he said. “How lucky am I to be here to hear that?”