Patty Turner 'no quitter' despite amputation and setbacks

Patty Turner plays with her pet brahma cow, Cheyenne, in the pasture behind her rural Wallowa house. Photo by Elane Dickenson

It's not every one-legged woman who has a pet brahma cow, but then Patty Turner of rural Wallowa is no ordinary woman.

After all here's a woman who as a farm girl in the Willamette Valley rode her Jersey 4-H cow for two years because her dad said she couldn't have a horse.

"I'm not a quitter," says Turner, a former horse packer and trail worker with the U.S. Forest Service. "And I've never been afraid of anyone or anything."

Fiercely independent and a lover of the outdoor life, circumstances have left Turner pretty much confined to her house since she was released in September from the latest of many hospital stays. "And then she was recently turned down for an outdoor wheelchair by Medicare.

Connie McCready, who works at Wallowa Memorial Hospital in Enterprise and has become close to Turner, said that rejection left her friend "pretty upset." McCready feels that getting the wheelchair may just be a matter of paperwork, but she's not sure it will navigate the barnyard the way Turner wants anyway.

So McCready recently put her head together with some other friends, including veteran muleskinner Bob Casey. They decided to raise enough money to buy Patty Turner a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle so she can regain some of her lost independence. An estimated $6,000 is needed to get a decent machine at cost. An auction of pies and donated items will be scheduled at the Lostine Tavern later in November, McCready said. A Patty Turner fund will be set up at First Klamath bank in Enterprise by Nov. 5 for anyone who would like to help out.

"There's only so much housework you can do, and I'm tired of reading and watching television," Turner says about her desire to be out brushing her two horses or playing with her favorite cow, a huge brahma named Cheyenne, who begs for treats like a pet dog. She and Dan Turner, her husband of six years, have been raising brahma cattle for the past three years, and now have 10 of all ages, including a bull.

"Brahmas are the sweetest, gentlest cows," Turner says, downplaying the image of brute ferocity they have gained in the rodeo arena. She proved her point last week when McCready managed to push Turner out through snow and rocks to visit her cattle in the pasture behind the Turner house. One cow in particular, a massive animal named Cheyenne, begged for treats like a pet dog, while Turner coaxed it to "show big girl teeth" in a bovine smile.

The story of how Turner ended up housebound in a wheelchair in Wallowa County is a long and complicated one. Keeping track of her medical history and chronological timeline of her many surgeries isn't easy, even for Turner.

Turner had always had severe aches and pains in her left leg, and found out when she was in her 30s she was born without the deep veins needed to provide good circulation in the lower half of that limb.

Eventually she had her knee joint in that leg - and later in her right leg - replaced. Then four years ago her left leg was amputated below the knee, mainly because of severe constant pain and a pressure sore on her foot that was threatening to turn gangrenous. A serious staff infection resulted in doctors first cutting away tissue and then amputating again, this time above the knee.

Turner learned to cope, spending lots of times in rehabilitation. She was pleased when she was eventually fitted with a prosthesis, though "it was never quite right." For one thing, she was taking more than her share of falls.

However, she was learning to ride a horse again with the artificial limb, and life was looking up as Turner could do more and more for herself.

Visits to the experts didn't seem to solve the glitches with her new leg, however, and three days after one exam, disaster struck. Her prosthesis failed to lock when it was supposed to, and in June this year she fell hard on her "good" knee on the cement floor of a restroom in Baker City. The fall shattered the kneecap of the only leg she had left, one which had already underwent four surgeries before the big accident and two since.

After her latest surgeries at Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande, Turner spent 82 days in the swing bed unit at Wallowa Memorial, with plenty of time to reflect upon her life to that point. "I've lived for the past four years in hospitals," she said.

Born in Idaho and raised on a truck farm near Jefferson between Albany and Salem, Turner graduated from high school in 1965 and married at age 19. She had four children, two boys and two girls, and went through the grief of losing a 12-year-old son in a farm accident. She was divorced after 13 years of marriage, went back to school and got a degree in medical technology. After 10 years of working at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis as a single mother, Turner decided it was now or never in fulfilling a lifelong dream - to live in Eastern Oregon.

A friend had moved to Wallowa County, set up an interview and in 1990 Turner (then named Patty Shinn) went to work for an Enterprise chiropractor. A year later she went to work as a full-time seasonal trail worker for the Eagle Cap Wilderness, riding every day and learning to pack. It was a job she loved for five years.

"Those were the happiest days of my life," she remembers. "If I could be out there now, I would. ... When I die my ashes will be spread over the Eagle Cap in my favorite places."

The work was physically demanding, however, and Turner's leg problems caught up with her. Eventually, taking a handful of Advil every day wasn't enough. "Every joint in my body is gone," says Turner. "I couldn't walk any more."

In addition to everything, Turner is being treated for rheumatoid arthritis throughout her body, and last Christmas came close to death because of a blood, bladder and kidney infection.

"I have quite the history, I'll tell you," she says ruefully.

Despite her medical problems and physical limitations, Turner says she knows better than to feel sorry for herself. "I worked for six years on an oncology unit with a lot of terminally ill patients. There are a lot of people a lot worse off than I am."

Still Patty Turner looks forward to the time when she's able to go outside again on her own, and maybe brush her cows and horses again and "feel I have a life."

With a little help from her friends that time might not be so far away.

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