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Agency Partnerships Help Cattle Farmer with Hydrocephalus

ST. ELIZABETH, Mo. – Despite 26 surgeries, 47-year-old Blaine Kemna farms every day.

He remains an independent farmer and works with the Missouri AgrAbility Project and its partners.

Kemna was born with hydrocephalus, a condition that causes water to put pressure on the brain. University of Missouri Extension safety and health specialist Karen Funkenbusch says AgrAbility helped Kemna obtain adaptive devices to remain independent.

“These devices take burdens off of Blaine to help him continue to be successful in production agriculture,” says Funkenbusch, who serves as the Missouri state director of AgrAbility.

Throughout his youth, doctors put shunts in Kemna’s head. Despite vision and gait issues, he graduated from St. Elizabeth High School and went on to study at the College of the Ozarks. “I had a pretty normal childhood,” he says.

In his third semester of college, he suffered extreme back pain, which he believes resulted from being injured when a sow on his parents’ farm knocked him down.

A doctor performed a spinal tap and Kemna went into a one-month coma. Doctors gave him a “single digits” chance to live. When he awoke, he needed physical and occupational therapy to learn to crawl, walk and talk again.

During rehabilitation, he used a magnifying glass to read. He returned to campus to complete a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness with a minor in animal science.

Kemna held several jobs briefly after graduation but found them too physically challenging. He moved back to the family farm at St. Elizabeth, where he now raises Gelbvieh cattle. He grows hay and double-crops wheat and corn in bottom ground along the Osage River. He also works part time at St. Elizabeth R-IV school.

In June 2010, Kemna suffered another setback. While haying, his hand got caught between a baler belt and roller. Eight surgeries and 2 1/2 years later, he sought services from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s vocational rehabilitation program.

His mother brought home a flyer about the Missouri AgrAbility Project from the MU Extension Center in Miller County. He contacted state director Karen Funkenbusch and began working with her to find services and adaptive devices to help him continue to farm. Missouri AgrAbility partners with the Brain Injury Association of Missouri, Lincoln University Cooperative Extension’s Innovative Small Farmers’ Outreach Program, Rehabilitation Services for the Blind (RSB) and other groups to help farmers and ranchers with disabilities or injuries continue to farm and ranch.

Through a partnership RSB, he received a head table for his cattle squeeze chute, which allows him to hold the head of a cow steady while he tattoos or tags them. He also received a backup camera for an older farm pickup truck to help him hook up a livestock trailer more easily despite compromised peripheral vision. Two smaller devices – a faultfinder for electric fences and a talking tape measure, also make work easier and safer.

At 47, Kemna experiences some vision issues caused by the strain of seeing in a “checkerboard” pattern. “Reading wears me out,” he says. RSB also provided him with a pen reader that glides over reading material and reads the content aloud to him. An automatic reader reads sheets of reading material to him.

Kemna enjoys the networking and educational opportunities of attending national AgrAbility conferences. It was there that he met Jim Brinkmann, mid-Missouri supervisor for RSB. Brinkmann, a sixth-generation cattle farmer with hereditary vision issues, lives about 50 miles away from Kemna.

Kemna says he was always told that he was “too high-functioning” to qualify for services. His rural work ethic and commitment to farming allow him to work around physical and mental challenges he has faced all of his life. He urges others to contact AgrAbility to learn about services.

“Blaine continues to run his farm post-injury with support from the AgrAbility program, RSB, and his family and friends,” says Funkenbusch. “Through agency collaboration, we can help farmers and ranchers and their families find resources that make it easier for them to continue being involved in production agriculture.”

For more information, contact AgrAbility at 1-800-995-8503 or go to