Defying death, Willie was saved‘for a reason’

Health / Medical marvel

By Matthew Stolle

DODGE CENTER — Willie Bartlett is no longer surprised anymore at being treated as a medical marvel.

The Dodge Center man has been written up in medical journals and held up as a miracle in a Jewish religious community in New Jersey. A Mayo Clinic doctor once recently told Willie he should never have survived the ordeal he went through last October.


And yet Willie has.

Five months after nearly dying in a minivan accident in which his body was impaled on a metal fence post along U.S. 52 and doctors gave him almost no chance of survival, Willie continues to defy expectations.

"It made me feel good that I’ve made it through so much, and I’m still here," Willie said recently.

Willie, 24, has since returned to his Dodge Center home, outfitted now with a ramp and other handicapped accessible equipment. He has a new van, large enough to accommodate both him and his wheelchair. His goal is to one day, with the aid of a joystick and his one good arm, learn how to drive again.

But the physical and financial struggles persist. Willie keeps a calendar on his wall next to his bed to keep track of all his doctor’s appointments. He estimates taking anywhere from 15 to 20 medications. And the pain in his damaged left arm can be so intense that it brings him to tears.

His medical expenses have been staggering. The bill for his stay at Saint Marys Hospital, during which he underwent five major surgeries, totaled more than $900,000. And while medical insurance has covered a large part of it, the co-payments are still hefty, he said. And the cost of a new van has been considerable.

To help defray some of those costs to both Willie and his family, community members have organized a benefit. The fundraiser will be held at the Dodge Center Legion April 11, with an Indian taco dinner from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and karaoke by Ron’s Idea from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. There will also be silent auction and raffle drawing.

The community’s efforts to assist the Bartlett family are evident in other ways. A ramp leading to Willie’s front door was built, courtesy of a silent benefactor.


Recently, a member of the local sheriff’s department approached Willie about speaking to young people about the importance of using a seat belt. Willie was not wearing a seat belt when the accident occurred. Willie says the prospect of speaking in front of an audience makes him as "nervous as hell," but he thinks he might accept.

Valerie Bartlett says there is a reason why her son survived.

"There’s a reason he’s here. One of my neighbor gals said, ‘God saved him for a reason.’ Now we got to figure out what the reason is. He’s got a lot of work to do yet," Valerie says.


What: Benefit for Willie Bartlett

Where: Dodge Center American Legion, 401 W. Highway St.

When: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, April 11

If you would like to donate food, an item for the silent auction or the raffle, you may do so by contacting Willie’s aunt, Patty Braeger, by phone at (507) 527-2819 or e-mail at


Monetary donations are also appreciated and may be directed to: The Willie Bartlett Fund, c/o Farmers State Bank, 181 Main Street, West Concord.

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