Just a little over a week after Randy Lewis was attacked by a bull on his farm in Alamance County, a GoFundMe has amassed more than $165,000 in donations.
The 62-year-old farmer is only starting to learn the extent of the outpouring of support, after life-saving medical intervention to recover from broken ribs, punctured lungs, shattered vertebrae, and other injuries.
A man known for his quick quips and “Randy-isms” sat speechless for a moment, reflecting on the power of the cumulative love shown to him over the past week.
“I’m flabbergasted. I’m touched. I’m overwhelmed. And I’m just deeply moved,” Lewis said from his new hospital bed outside of the ICU ward. “I’m not sure I’m capable of putting this feeling into words, so all I can say today is thank you.”
A long incision runs up and across his torso, in the early stages of healing after a long reconstructive surgery that involved reconnecting five broken ribs with seven metal plates.
“They had to put him back together,” Randy’s wife Teresa Lewis said, holding tears back as she sat in a chair by his bedside. “I just hate to see him in so much pain.”
Lewis is one of the last remaining dairy farmers in the area and works tirelessly to preserve his 5th generation farm, a sun-up to sun-down work ethic that’s not easily replaceable.
“We are having to get five or six people to cover the work that Randy does each day,” said Taylor Hayes, COO for Ran-Lew Dairy who lives on the farm and set up the GoFundMe page. “Randy is a mechanic, he’s a truck driver, he’s a farmer… he just has so many skills and never stops moving,” she said.
After asking for help from volunteers, hundreds have signed up for shifts to work on the farm.
Thousands have also been showing support on social media, including musician Willie Nelson. “Can you believe that?!,” Lewis said as he saw the post. Lewis says he was “tickled” years ago when Willie Nelson’s grandkids said they were big fans of his ice cream at a Farm Aid music festival.
Ran-Lew Dairy milk products are “cream-top” and bottled fresh, with a unique flavor often lost in large dairy production. “We are just hoping to support any way we can,” said one customer at the Whole Foods in Raleigh with three jugs in her cart. She was disappointed that they were sold out of Ran-Lew chocolate milk, a recipe that has gained a cult following with a touch of sea salt and no syrupy additives.
“I’m just so grateful that people care about me, or even that don’t know me, care about the situation and want to make sure I have a home to go home to, because if it hadn’t been for all this, I don’t know if that would happen,” he said.
They are planning to use the donated funds to cover medical bills that continue to mount as he’s expected to be in the hospital and rehab facilities for weeks to come.
“As we pulled out of the driveway, I thought that might be the last time I would ever see it,” Lewis said in a rare reflection on the severity of the attack. If there’s anyone who is capable of seeing the good in a bad situation and toughing his way through impossible challenges, it’s Randy Lewis.
“If the lord gives you split peas, you’ve just got to learn to like split pea soup and go with it,” Lewis said with a laugh.
He does a good job of hiding the severe pain from his reconfigured abdomen but tells us that it hurts just to sit there so he might as well crack jokes and visit with friends if it’s going to hurt anyway.
To add insult to injury, days after the farmer was life-flighted to the hospital, a tree fell on Randy’s truck, totaling it.
“They say bad things come in threes, but we might be getting to the double digits now,” Lewis joked.
Nurses made comments that Lewis is the most popular patient they’ve seen, as a multi-generational line of visitors crowded in the waiting area at UNC Hospital, many carrying boxes of his favorite soda, Reed’s extra spicy ginger ale, as they swapped stories about Lewis. One woman in a wheelchair said she used to be Randy’s babysitter, after he jokingly described her as his first date.
“I think the generosity of others is so indicative of how generous Randy is,” said Hayes. “It’s such a statement towards his goodwill and how involved he is in not only his local community but a larger community across so many diverse intersections of his life.”
Many reflected on memories of traditional barn dances Lewis would host on the farm, with live music from the Doc Branch Band. “The rough tumbles of life could melt away in those few hours when we could all gather and just share music and memories,” said one of Randy’s hospital visitors. Those events were central to an award-winning documentary about Randy Lewis called The Last Barn Dance, which garnered national attention after it was picked up by PBS.
“I’m famous,” Randy joked. “Actually, no one is probably going to recognize me now that I’ve shaved,” he said.
Lewis may be missing his characteristic red beard now, but his spirit still shines through, despite the physical challenges that lay ahead on his long road to recovery.
“It’s been a wild ride and it’s been tough, but there’s always maybe some good that comes out of these things,” Lewis said.