Edzard van Santen loves a good play on words — “I never turn down a great pun,” the Auburn University agronomy and soils professor says — which is why he intends to name the new switchgrass cultivar he’ll be releasing sometime in the next year ‘My Left Foot.’ Because that’s what it cost him to develop the new cultivar: his left foot.

It was a grisly 2011 farming accident at the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station’s Upper Coastal Plain Ag Research Center that rendered van Santen physically impaired, but it very well could have rendered him dead, and that close call has done a lot to change the brusque and burly German native’s perspective on life.

“I have happily embraced ‘handicapped’ status,” says van Santen. “It certainly beats my other option.”

You could say that van Santen has taken his new standing as an amputee in stride — puns intended — and in so doing has written a remarkable comeback story in which a man admittedly “infamous for my patience,” has learned a lot about life, priorities and relationships and taught those around him volumes about determination, willpower and attitude.

The accident happened shortly after 9 a.m. Nov.10 a year ago on the outskirts of Winfield in northwest Alabama. Van Santen, a plant breeder, and the crew at the 735-acre Upper Coastal Plain research station were harvesting a quarter-acre research plot of 6-foot-tall switchgrass when van Santen, in what he describes as “a moment of inattention,” stepped in front of a razor-sharp hay-cutting blade.

The tractor-mounted cutter bar caught his leg from behind, just above the ankle, slicing through bones, muscles, nerves and two of the leg’s three major arteries. There was blood. Lots of blood. And this is the point in the story where van Santen thanks the Lord that UCP director Randall Rawls keeps his cell phone on him and that research assistant Van Dubay wears leather belts, because those two factors saved his life.

Rawls, who was driving the tractor, had just put the thing in gear when he heard a loud moan and turned to see van Santen drop to the ground. Immediately, he cut the engine, dialed 911 on his cell and sent Sandy Burleson and Cecil Parish, research technicians at the center, out to the main road to direct the ambulance to the accident scene.