Bearpaw on road to recovery

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Bearpaw Galindo lost two fingers on his right hand after his ham radio tower collapsed on his hands while he was working on the antenna on February, 14. Galindo has already endured three surgeries and is scheduled for a fourth to repair damaged tissue and restore some functionality to his hand.

ATHOL - When part of Bearpaw Galindo's backyard ham radio tower came crashing down on his hands, everything afterward happened quickly.

"It happened so fast I didn't even have time to think," Galindo, 52, said of the Feb. 13 accident. "It was just boom, just like that."

His wife, Gail Perry, saw the accident as it happened. She thought she saw one of his hands fly off the tower, when in fact it was fingers and chunks of flesh.

It was an image Perry said she couldn't shake.

"I could have passed a polygraph on it," Perry said. "For weeks it was what I believed because it was what my brain could handle at the time."

Galindo was stuck on the antenna tower for more than 45 minutes. During that time, the thought that he needed help, and quickly, was the only thing running through his head.

"It just sucked my arms in there and I was stuck," Galindo said. "The only thing that kept me up there was a platform I had built on the tower. That's what kept me up there. Other than that it would have cut my feet off too. That platform is the only thing that really saved me."

When emergency personnel arrived on scene, Galindo said they initially didn't know how they would get him down from the tower.

"They wanted to cut me down like a tree," Galindo said. "I said, 'No, no, no, you guys ain't going to do that to me. Come up here and let me show you what's up.'"

According to Galindo, one of the "younger" emergency responders was able to get up on the tower and see what was happening. They were able to jack the retractable tower up enough to get both of his hands out.

From there he was placed on a Life Flight to Kootenai Medical Center. During the flight he received four pints of blood.

The last thing Galindo remembers is hearing a doctor say they needed to take him to the operating room.

"I thought I had only been in the hospital for a day," Galindo said. "But she (Perry) told me 'No, it's been five days.'"

After the five-day stay at Kootenai Health and three surgeries, his hands were completely rebuilt, save for two fingers missing from his right hand.

"The surgeons put him back together," Perry said.

Galindo still has a long road to recovery ahead of him, beginning with a plastic surgery procedure next week.

Fortunately, Galindo's hands weren't infected, which he said has sped up the timeline for his upcoming surgeries.

"It has been hard," Galindo said of the recovery process. "Very, very hard."

The pain, both real and phantom pains from his two missing fingers, was at first stronger than the amount of pain medication he was able to take.

"It was screaming way past the meds," Galindo said. "But the doctors couldn't give me any more because they didn't want me to overdose. Now though, my pain has met my meds."

Throughout Galindo's recovery, Perry said that the entire community in Athol and beyond has helped by donating hay, groceries and meals.

And there was a flood of cards from all over the country, cards that now line the walls of their Athol home.

"It's pretty cool," Galindo said.

"This has been his ultimate uplift," Perry added. "I have had a complete turnaround about humanity. This has just restored my faith in everyone across the board. It just amazes me."

Galindo and Perry both said they don't plan to stop being ham radio operators. It's a hobby they have shared together for more than a decade.

But now, they have a new aspect of the hobby to explore and promote.

"Safety, safety, safety," Galindo said.

Galindo added that he loves being a ham radio operator because it enables him to talk to friends he has made all over the world, including the more than 80 other operators in Athol.

Members of the couple's local ham radio club came to the property and have removed the tower. Once the weather improves, Perry said they will be back to install a more secure, freestanding unit without moving parts.

Galindo and Perry will continue on the path of recovering from the accident, which involves therapy and hospital visits five days a week.

"I have a long ways to go," Galindo said. "A long ways to go still."

"It's a life changing situation," Perry added. "But just seeing him heal heals me."

Gail Perry, left, adjusts pillows for Bearpaw Galindo to keep his right hand elevated.

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