Asia Johnson, Eric Orman and their son, Hoyt, are living with Eric's parents while Eric recovers from a broken neck he suffered as a result of a fall at work.
Asia Johnson, Eric Orman and their son, Hoyt, are living with Eric's parents while Eric recovers from a broken neck he suffered as a result of a fall at work.
"I got up off the floor and was looking at my finger, and I said, 'I think I broke my finger, I think I broke my finger'," said Spring Valley resident Eric Orman, "but the First Responder said 'I think you broke more than that,' and he made me sit down."

Orman, son of Bob and Sharon Orman, suffered a broken neck, fractured skull, subdural hematoma and facial injuries in his 18-foot fall from a pallet rack at work on Jan. 2. The 25-year-old was "trying to unload insulation onto pallet racking, lost my footing and fell."

"I remember hitting the last shelf about the middle of my back on the way down, and I went blank after that. Chad, my coworker, said I was unconscious for about 15 seconds, then I remember walking in a circle until the ambulance showed up and told me to sit down. They put a neck collar on my put me on a stretcher and into the ambulance, and we were supposed to be intercepted by Gold Cross at Racine, I think, but I don't remember how far we got before I was unconscious again."

His girlfriend, Asia Johnson, was at home with their 5-month-old son, Hoyt, when two co-workers knocked on the door and told her she had to get dressed and go to Saint Marys Hospital immediately because Eric was seriously hurt. She recalled, "I'd literally just woke up, the baby had just turned 5 months old that day, and I couldn't just get in the car...I had to get stuff ready for the baby, then I called his mom and finally, on the way up, she got back to me."

Sharon Orman works at the Mayo Clinic, and once Asia arrived, the help desk pointed her toward Eric's mother, waiting in the emergency room for news of what was to come next. Asia said, "The doctors were optimistic, but they said they had to do surgery right then or the fluid pressing on his brain would kill him."

He was placed in a surgical halo to immobilize his head and stabilize his neck so it could heal, and a piece of his skull was removed to relieve the subdural hematoma. Orman spent the next days in the intensive care unit, medicated and unaware of the visitors who came to see him. Asia brought Hoyt in to see his father, but the noises and tubes and Eric's incapacitated state upset him too much, as he had "the blackest black eye" she had ever seen.

Eric related, "The second day in the ICU, I remember. But the first day, I was highly medicated and don't remember talking to anyone." He was at Saint Marys for 11 days, had the surgical halo for three weeks, and surgeons monitored his broken neck and determined that it had slipped out of place while he was in recovery. "That's when they decided to fuse my C1 and C2 (vertebrae) together and put me back in the halo. They did a bone graft from my hip, and when they got me out of bed to walk, that was the worst. I was back in the halo for two to three weeks until I had extreme headaches. I went for an MRI, and everything came back positive, so they set a date to remove the halo. I've had two surgeries and have to go back for a last one on April 30; they'll check the fluid in my head and if they're comfortable with it, they'll set a date for surgery to fix the bone flap in my skull, and if there's too much fluid, they'll wait. My next appointment is April 9."

Eric is frustrated but optimistic about his recovery. He can't go outside on icy days, and he reminds Asia and Sharon "daily" that it makes him crazy that he can't drive anywhere. He and Asia have temporarily moved in with Sharon and Bob due to financial uncertainty caused by his accident, and he's doing his best to do anything to keep himself upbeat.

"I have a helmet I wear when I go out that protects my head, but it's not going to stop the damage if I fall," he said. "There's still numbness in the back of my head, and there's a chance that will be permanent. Now that they've fused my C1 and C2, I can't turn my head the way I used to, but I still can move it up and down, so I've gotten used to turning with my whole body...the doctor said I likely would do that anyway when people talk to me. I had family and friends who stopped in at the hospital, and I've gone out with friends, too. There's no driving until I'm out of this neck brace. The frustration is in the waiting game. The most frustrating part is that when it's been really icy out, I can't take the risk of leaving the house."

However stir-crazy he's getting, Eric counts himself doubly fortunate to be alive and walking today. "I'm alive and can walk. That is the biggest thing. I'm very fortunate to be here, and on top of that, being able to walk. From 18 feet, most people don't live. The doctor told me that 99 percent of people who fall 20 feet don't live. If I wouldn't have hit that last shelf, I probably would have died. The surgeon was very amazed how I survived, that I can walk, about the progress I've made. He's amazed at how well I've done and said that I probably shouldn't be here today."

This comes after a sledding accident when he was 5 years old that also resulted in serious head injuries. "I had a fractured skull, a blood clot in my forehead and a broken nose. I don't remember it well, but I know it was serious. This time, it's been a hell of a journey, one I don't want to go through again."

Given that Orman isn't going to be able to return to work for the next two to three months and has permanent paralysis, Asia's mother, Traci Assmus of Wykoff, has organized a benefit for him on Saturday, April 13, at the Spring Valley Community Center. "We want to help him and his little family offset his workers' compensation payments and get back on their feet so they can eventually get back into their own place," she said. "I think Eric is anxiously awaiting a time when he can put this whole tragedy behind him and move forward. He is a very strong, determined young man and looks forward every day to his recovery."

The benefit will feature "home-based business vendors selling their goods," a silent auction, and lunch plates of pulled pork donated by Ody's Country Meats, beef barbecue donated by Sharon's friends, coleslaw from the A&W, pop given by Sunshine Foods, and dessert bars donated by friends of the family.

"All proceeds from the auction and lunch plates will go to Eric, Asia and Hoyt to help them get back on their feet," said Assmus. "I still have spaces available for vendors and crafters, and I could use some more volunteers to make bars, more help setting up, working the benefit and tearing down afterwards. We're still accepting in-kind donations for the silent auction and/or monetary donations, which Thrivent Branch 31189 will match. We have many nice items that have been donated by local businesses as well as individuals that will be available to bid on for the silent auction. The lunch plates available for sale will be delicious as well, so I'm really hoping that everyone can at least stop by for a bit or stay for the whole benefit."

Assmus stated that the best way the community can help Eric, Asia and Hoyt is "by attending" the benefit. "The benefit is open to the public and everyone is welcome. It's going to be fun socializing, seeing and meeting Eric and his family, including my grandson, Hoyt, who makes everything fun. I am hoping this benefit shows Eric that the whole community is behind him and supports him in his recovery."

The Eric Orman Benefit is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Spring Valley Community Center on South Broadway in Spring Valley. If anyone would like to be a vendor, donate something and/or volunteer to help, contact Assmus, event coordinator, at (507) 352-5551 or e-mail her at