Riding the bronc, Lee Patterson felt his pelvis separate.
“Being bullheaded, I wasn’t going to get bucked off,” Patterson says. “I stayed there and we hit again. After two or three more jumps, it didn’t do anything but hurt worse, so I turned loose. I needed some relief.”
For the past 16 years, Patterson has worked for the Kelly Ranch in Bray, Okla., where he and his wife, Melody, live. He talks of his boss as his friend and his job as his dream.
“We don’t cowboy every day all day long,” he says. “We’re jacks of all trades. There ain’t a cow that can make it through the winter without a tractor running in the summer.”
But Patterson does find time to cut loose—and ranch rodeos are his primary form of recreation. One rodeo in particular—the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Range Roundup—is his favorite. Held at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, it’s an invitational event designed to raise funds for the local children’s hospital. Patterson offered to ride the bronc in the wild horse race—the last event of the night. When he came off, he knew he was hurt, but figured he could walk it off.
“They helped me up and I got to my knees and I said, ‘It’s not happening,’” he remembers. “I’m hard-headed and stubborn, but I did know I needed to go the doctor.”
After a round of X-rays at the emergency room, Patterson was sent to the University of Oklahoma Trauma Center, where he spent 13 days—nine of them in the Intensive Care Unit. Not only was his pelvis separated, an artery was severed in the process and he was suffering from severe internal bleeding. Immediately, the Working Ranch Cowboys Association, through their foundation, sent the family a check to help with the fuel, hotel, and dining bills they were facing. But as bad as the wreck, the injuries, and the subsequent surgeries were, it was the recovery that truly tested the Pattersons.
“It’s tough when you go from doing everything on your own to a point where you can’t even get up to go to get a drink of water,” Lee says. “Somebody had to stay with me 24-7.”
Initially, that was Melody. But as she burned through her vacation and sick leave, the Pattersons were scrambling to figure out other solutions when she discovered she could take unpaid time off from her job.
“We preferred for her to be here with me, but from a financial point of view we couldn’t afford that. They were already sending us hospital bills. The very next day, the WRCA contacted her again and said, ‘We’re going to send you a monthly check for the next few months.’ If that’s not a Godsend and a sign that she was supposed to be home, I don’t know what is.”
Lee still managed to keep up with most of his office duties as the ranch manager, and as he recovered, Mike Kelly, the ranch owner, would come by and load him and his wheelchair up to check on things. This February, after 90 days in a wheelchair, Lee was cleared for however much physical activity he was comfortable with. While he’s worked up to dragging calves in the branding pen, he says he’s still in the “walk-trot category.”
“I can’t say enough good about the WRCA and how much they helped out,” he says. “It’s not even the finances. The moral support, phone calls, checking up, that means a lot to a person as well.”
Editor’s note: American Cowboy magazine has partnered with the WRCF to raise awareness of the WRCF’s mission. If you would like to help them support working cowboys in times of crisis, become a member today by visiting wrca.wildapricot.org/Donate.