By Celine Klosterman
WASHINGTON — A couple months ago Amanda Vittetoe, who works seven days a week on her parents’ hog farm in Washington, would sometimes forget to make time for prayer.
Now, the 23-year-old said, “You can’t forget to pray. There’s so much to be thankful for.”
Vittetoe’s faith has grown, she said, since she escaped drowning Aug. 24 after falling into a manure pit. That morning, she had gone to help unload pigs from a truck on the farm of a contract grower for her family’s farm when she noticed a gap between the truck and the chute the pigs would exit onto. She started walking in search of a mat to bridge the gap, and as she glanced up, she suddenly fell into an uncovered, 8 1/2-foot-deep basin full of manure.
“I don’t remember seeing anything on the way down,” she said. “The next thing I knew I was under the manure.”
Unsure how deep the pit was, the 5’8’’ Vittetoe tried jumping out. It didn’t work. So she felt around, frantically searching for a ladder or handrail. Nothing. “I was trying to scream, but I couldn’t,” she said.
Thoughts flashed through her mind: “How are my parents going to find out I died in here?” Who would help care for her two nieces? “God, is this how I’m going to die?”
Nearby, the truck driver heard the pit “bubble” — then saw Vittetoe’s fingers poke through the manure’s surface. Randy Stalder rushed over, grabbed the back of her shirt collar and pulled her up.
The two struggled as Vittetoe tried to swing her foot over the pit’s edge. Finally, after 45 seconds of being submerged and a minute or two of scrambling to totally free herself, she collapsed onto solid ground.
“I was screaming and crying,” Vittetoe said. Stalder started driving her, covered in manure, to the Washington County Hospital. The two met her mom halfway there.
At the hospital Vittetoe was evaluated and released, and a follow-up appointment was scheduled. Fortunately, she said, she had tried not to breathe in while submerged in the manure.
In days that followed, she wondered, “Why did I survive?” God must have a purpose for her, she decided — and she resolved to try to fulfill it.
Vittetoe took one step in that effort by becoming a catechist at St. James Parish in Washington. Before the accident, she had declined an invitation to help teach religious education. But after her ordeal, “I said, you know what? I owe it to God to make faith more present in my life and others’ lives.”
She’s learned much about Catholicism since starting to teach. And her perspective on prayer has changed, too.
After the accident she received dozens of cards, e-mails and Facebook messages, some from people she didn’t even know. “I was overwhelmed by knowing other people were praying for me,” Vittetoe said. “I guess that shows how powerful prayer is.”
She’s trying to pass on some of her blessings by praying for farmers this harvest season and speaking locally about farm safety.
And Vittetoe plans to keep working for her parents’ hog business, JWV Pork, as a field supervisor. It’s a job the registered nurse took after some Iowa hospitals instituted a hiring freeze, but work she loves in part for the time it allows her to be with family.
Her mom, Heidi Vittetoe, said Amanda’s ordeal put into perspective the economic struggles the hog industry is facing. “Losing money is just losing money,” she said. “Losing family would be much harder to accept.”
Amanda said she appreciates her family and friends even more these days. And she sees God everywhere — not only in having survived the accident, but in finding a lost wallet, in watching sunrises and sunsets. “They were great before, but they’re really great now,” she said.
“I feel lucky and very purposeful because I get to live.”