New Rockford Transcript - Official Newspaper of Eddy County since 1883

Home at last: New Rockford man injured in July accident returns home


February 10, 2020

Amy Wobbema

Neto Alcala and his four-year-old daughter Mia in their home on Wed, Feb. 5.

July 13 started out as a typical summer Saturday for Neto Alcala and his family. They left their home in New Rockford to do a little fishing with friends at Lake Coe in eastern Eddy County. When the fish weren't biting, one friend suggested they go to nearby Juanita Lake. The Alcala family had never been out to Juanita, so they decided to check it out.

The fish weren't biting along the shore there either, and a few of their friends were trying to get a boat running. The summer sun was hot, so Neto decided to cool off with a dip in the water. He dove right in, unaware of the low water level. He hit the bottom of the lake head-on, causing an instant blackout.

Neto remained in the water for what his wife Blanca thought was a bit too long. When he didn't come out after a couple minutes, she began to worry. She went to the dock and yelled, "Neto, are you okay?", and got no response. He was lying face down in the water, and didn't appear to be moving either, so she asked their friends Elvis and Eddy to go in and check on him.

By the time they got to him and turned him around, Neto's lips were purple and his face drained of color. On top of that, his body had filled with fluid from swallowing water, which made it difficult to pull him in. Dallas, a volunteer first responder from Carrington who happened to be at the lake that afternoon, helped Elvis and Eddy.

As soon as Neto was safely on shore, Blanca began administering CPR. Her sister called 911, and Dallas helped give directions to their location.

Meanwhile, Blanca continued CPR, and before long Neto began breathing and had a pulse. In about 10-15 minutes, EMTs from the Carrington Ambulance Service were on scene. They transported him to CHI St. Alexius Health in Carrington. From there he was airlifted to Sanford Health in Fargo.

Once at Sanford, his medical team determined he had fractured his C5 vertebra, the fifth vertebra, and tore ligaments in his neck. Surprisingly he had no spinal cord damage. Neto underwent surgery a few days later to repair the vertebra and fuse the ligaments.

He spent a month in the intensive care unit at Sanford Health. From there, he was transferred to Vibra Hospital, which is on the seventh floor of Sanford Hospital. Another month went by in this long term acute care department, as the goal was to get him off a ventilator. In mid-September, he began inpatient rehabilitation at Sanford. On Oct. 10, 2019, he was sent to the Minneapolis area for specialized physical, occupational and speech therapy at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Golden Valley. His progress was thwarted by intense muscle spasms, causing him to stay at Courage Kenny longer than anticipated.

Neto finally returned home to New Rockford on Friday, Jan. 31, more than six months after his accident. Whereas he entered the hospital in July with limited mobility and difficulty breathing on his own, he now has feeling and sensation throughout his body. His condition is noted as C5 incomplete quadriplegia. He has limited mobility in his arms, but cannot open his hands or move his legs and feet. Therefore, he's wheelchair-bound for the foreseeable future.

With the help of friends and the New Rockford Lions Club, Neto is able to enter and exit his house via a handicapped-accessible ramp. The Lions Club donated the materials, and Lions members Rick Swenson and Dennis Gehrtz, along with a few of their family friends – Elvis Gonzalez, Chuy Orozco, Waldemar Arana and Iram Sifuentes – built the ramp on a warm November day.

It's that sense of community that has kept the Alcala family here in New Rockford for nine years. Neto and Blanca, natives of Washington and California respectively, met in Oregon. They had both been laid off from their jobs there and were collecting unemployment when their friend Chuy told them about new opportunities in New Rockford. Chuy had been here for a year working at the bison plant at that time, and he told them jobs would be waiting for them if they made the move.

With their unemployment about to run out, they decided to pack up and venture to New Rockford in November of 2011. They have since made their home here and become a family of four. They have a four-year-old daughter Mia and two-year-old son Ernesto.

They got some opposition from their friends in Oregon. "North Dakota, do you know it's sub-zero temps over there in the winter?" others asked.

"How bad can it be?" they remembered thinking. Now, in spite of the brutal winters, they have made this community home.

"Now I don't picture myself living anywhere else," Blanca says, "especially with kids."

The Neto Alcala family, from left to right: Blanca, Mia, Neto and Ernesto

Neto was a supervisor at North American Bison, LLC, at the time of the accident. Blanca cared for their two young children at home while studying nursing at Lake Region State College. Now, their daily routine has changed and their steady income source replaced by disability pay. "We aren't sure what we're going to do," Blanca said bluntly in a more quiet moment.

When asked about his prognosis for walking, Neto says, "I will get some movement back, but we don't know how much."

Therapy continues for Neto now that he's home, under the care of CHI Health at Home. Matt Ystaas, a New Rockford area native, is among those on his care team. He has a long road ahead, but his family is hopeful that he will walk once again and maybe even go back to work at North American Bison.

A benefit for the family is in the works. Watch the "Transcript" for details.


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