Meanwhile, Dubay, a 2007 Auburn horticulture alumnus who was relatively new to his job with van Santen, was to the side of the tractor when he saw van Santen go down, was yanking off his belt to be used for a tourniquet, untangling van Santen’s foot from the blade and basically holding the victim’s foot and leg together while Upper Coastal Plain research technician Roy Akers pulled the makeshift tourniquet tight.

In what seemed to be hours but in fact was less than 10 minutes, the Marion County EMTs were on the scene, transferring van Santen from field to ambulance and on to Winfield’s Northwest Medical Center, which already had arranged for the victim to be airlifted to UAB Hospital’s level 1 trauma center.

It wasn’t until the ambulance pulled away that the reality of what had just happened began to dawn on Rawls, Dubay and the rest of the crew.

“The instant it happened, we all just sprang into reaction mode,” Rawls says. “I was real calm through it all, but once they put him in the ambulance, I pretty much fell apart.

“We all knew basic first-aid around here, and we have a first-aid kit, but no amount of training could have prepared us for that.”

“It was bad,” Dubay agrees. “What hit me the hardest was that this had happened to someone I knew.”

As soon as Rawls and Dubay gathered their wits, they headed to the Winfield hospital and were there when van Santen was wheeled out of the emergency room — where doctors had stabilized his vital signs and begun replenishing the blood he had lost — and into the waiting medical helicopter bound for Birmingham.

“And do you know what he said?” Dubay asks incredulously. “He told us to get back to the station to finish harvesting that switchgrass. Like we were in a frame of mind to do that.”

(To those who know him, that was classic van Santen — stern, brusque, no-nonsense, direct. As long-time agronomy and soils colleague David Weaver says, “Edzard tells you exactly what he thinks. There is no ‘fake’ Edzard.”)

At UAB Hospital, van Santen was wheeled straight to the trauma center’s operating room for what would be the first of five surgeries in a span of four and a half weeks. The initial operation was to thoroughly clean the wound, stop the bleeding and fixate the foot, which was still partially attached, with several pins until a future course of action was decided.