Posted on February 12, 2023
Hearts on Fire: One Couple’s Rescue Story & Journey to Recovery
It started with a spark.
Carl Beintema knows how to play with fire. When it comes to welding, you’ve got to.
Carl, 37, is a pipefitter from Allendale. On December 23, he was welding in his barn – something he’d done countless times before – when his grinder sparked an undetected gas leak.
“The explosion happened right in front of me,” Carl said. “I just remember getting picked up and thrown. When I tried to stand up, I couldn’t.”
Back at the house, Carl’s wife, Ashleigh, heard the blast. She was putting their daughters, Noella and Vivienne, ages 7 and 4, to bed when she saw a flash of light. Then, the entire house shook.
Through the window, she saw the barn going up in flames. Knowing Carl was inside, she grabbed her coat and boots and sprinted out the door – all while dialing 911.
I knew I had to get him out.
Outside, it was the biggest snowstorm of the year – complete with sub-zero temps and knee-high snowdrifts. Ashleigh ran 125 yards to the barn, hoping Carl had already made it out.
“I could hear him screaming for help, so I knew he was still alive,” Ashleigh said. Without hesitation, she ran into the burning barn to save her husband.
The explosion was so violent it blew the siding, doors and roof off of the barn. Ashleigh found Carl pushed against a wall, covered in debris – his legs were crushed. He was fortunate to have the protection of his goggles, gloves and ear plugs.
Together they scrambled to free him before the flames ignited more gas-powered equipment.
“I knew we had to get out,” said Carl. “There were going to be more explosions.”
The first responders
911 responders were on their way, but their arrival was delayed by the blizzard conditions.
Then, the Michigan winter actually came to their rescue. With the help of Carl’s quick thinking, they used their daughters’ snow sled to pull him farther out to safety.
The blast itself had been heard six miles away. Neighbors were quick to arrive and provide assistance – including their neighbor, Joe Rohloff, an Ottawa County deputy who helped Ashleigh pull Carl to safety and applied tourniquets that saved his life.
Carl was rushed to Corewell Health Butterworth Hospital. He spent nine days in the ICU – six of them fully sedated. During that time, Carl underwent multiple surgeries. Ashleigh had to make a lot of decisions, including the decision to amputate Carl’s right leg.
“Amputation had the best possible outcome for our future. I was just happy just knowing that there is a tomorrow,” Ashleigh said. “Whether he has two legs or no legs, he is my person.”
Carl felt the same. “You realize, you don’t care,” he said. “Everything is going to be harder, but every day I am thankful I’m here.”
“We get tomorrow.”
When he was stable enough, Carl was transferred to the Inpatient Rehabilitation Program at Mary Free Bed. In addition to his above-knee amputation, Carl suffered a dislocated shoulder, broken bones and multiple fractures.
“Having a good support system can have a huge impact on your recovery,” said Bekah Blasen, Mary Free Bed physical therapist assistant. “Your loved ones become your motivation. Carl has been fighting for his wife and his little girls. “
Carl began therapy with only the minimal use of his arms. He worked with his Mary Free Bed amputation rehabilitation team to gain independence in his wheelchair. Carl’s nursing team, occupational therapists, physical therapists and recreational therapists helped him focus on everyday tasks and functional activities.
Time to heal
Eventually with his new prosthesis, Carl’s team anticipates he’ll check off one milestone at a time – progressing from a wheelchair to walking on his own.
“A positive, motivated mentality goes a long way,” said Mary Free Bed physician, Dr. Benjamin Bruinsma. “Carl has a great support system with his family and wife. When I first met them, I could tell this was a special couple.”
Throughout it all, Ashleigh has been by his side taking it one day at a time. A 3rd grade teacher, she’s had to balance being at home, work and the hospital.
“She’s everything to me,” said Carl. “When you find someone who will spoon feed you Pepsi for hours, you know she truly cares about you.”
We’re going to make it. Together.
On February 10, 49 days after the explosion, Carl headed home. They’ll continue the healing journey in outpatient therapy. Carl says he feels good about being home with Ashleigh, Noella and Vivienne – the loves of his life.
In June, Carl and Ashleigh will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary – and they say they can’t imagine doing life with anyone else.
“We’re young, we have a family, and we still have a lot of life to live.”
Carl and Ashleigh are deeply thankful for the help of the first responders, their family, friends, Carl’s employer Andy J. Egen Co., and their community.
Read more coverage of the Beintema’s story on the web:
Fox 17: Only thing I can do is move forward: Man injured in Allendale barn explosion finally goes home
Fox 17: Allendale Township man faces long road to recovery following barn explosion
Mlive: Sheriff’s deputy gets praise for saving man’s life in barn explosion
WZZM 13 on Your Side: Ottawa Co. deputy who responded to December barn explosion given Lifesaving Award