Local farmers cheer up young man with tractor parade

On Clark Township’s rural roads, tractors are a common sight this time of year as farmers travel from field to field.

But rarely are dozens lined up, one after another, in a showing of solidarity.

Local farmers had come out on their tractors in support of Mitch Higdon, a 21-year-old resident deeply involved in the farming community. Two weeks ago, Higdon was in the hospital, breathing with help from a ventilator after suffering complications from a series of serious seizures.

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Those who know and love him wanted to give him a boost in his recovery.

“We’d hope he’d realize that even with everything going on, our community — Clark Township — can still come together and do something good for other people,” said Josh Rhodes, secretary of the Whiteland FFA Alumni and one of Higdon’s friends. “The farmers around here all love Mitch and appreciate what he and his family (do) to grow crops and feed families here. We want to show our appreciation for him.”

The massive tractor parade passed by Higdon’s farm Tuesday night, putting on a show to support him and his family. Members of the Whiteland FFA, alumni members of the group and many others ingrained in the Clark Township agricultural community came together to cheer on one of their own.

Higdon himself was perched atop his 1948 John Deere taking it all in, waving and yelling as they drove by. For him and his family, the gesture was incredible.

“I was really blown away. This community takes ‘Love thy neighbor’ to the next level,” said Jamie Smith, Higdon’s mother.

Agriculture and FFA have been a way of life since Higdon was a child. Both sides of his family are farmers, and their roots grow deep in the Clark Township community. His father was president of Whiteland Community High School’s FFA chapter, and his older sister was vice-president.

Higdon has loved farming since he was born, Smith said.

At Whiteland, he was in the special needs program, having been identified as being developmentally delayed. That did not prevent him from learning all he could about agriculture.

In particular, he was fascinated by tractors — how they worked, what they could do, how to operate the machines. For his 16th birthday, Higdon received his antique John Deere tractor.

“If there was one thing we knew he was going to learn, it was how to drive a tractor,” Smith said. “That mattered. Reading, writing, math, not so much. But he was going to figure out how to drive the tractors.”

Naturally, he joined FFA as a high school student. The organization proved to be a truly inclusive community, Smith said.

“It’s always a good atmosphere. They’re very accommodating. It’s really cool to be out in our township and passing a field, and Mitch knows the kid helping a farmer. Or when he goes to the county fair every year, he gets to see these guys. It’s cool that he has peers that he has common interests with,” she said.

At the start of May, Higdon and his family were in the middle of preparing for the coming growing season. But then their world was turned upside down.

Higdon was diagnosed as a child with seizure disorder. The seizures were rare; it had been about 10 years since he had one. But when he does have seizures, the episodes last for an extended period of time, or he’ll have multiple seizures in a row without gaining consciousness between them. It can be life threatening.

At about 1:30 a.m. May 2, he suffered a seizure. Smith and her husband were with him immediately, calling 911. An hour passed before the ambulance arrived and could administer intravenous medication to stop the seizures.

In total, Higdon had four hard seizures over the span of two hours, but had never come out of it between those episodes, Smith said. He was admitted to the trauma unit at Franciscan Health Indianapolis.

The terrifying situation was made worse by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had actually said a few weeks before that my only fear with COVID-19 was if Mitch would get it, and I wouldn’t be able to be with him in the hospital, and I didn’t want him to be afraid,” Smith said.

She was allowed to ride in the ambulance with her son, and go into the trauma unit to give staff members information about Higdon. Then she had to wait.

During the seizures, Higdon had drawn fluid into his lungs, so he was sedated and placed on a ventilator. He had also injured his liver and kidneys during the episode. He was in the critical care unit for six days at Franciscan Health.

Smith wasn’t allowed to come see her son until the sixth day.

“The doctor agreed to let me come in to help wake him up and try to remove the ventilator. They didn’t want him to be afraid,” she said.

Throughout the ordeal, Smith credits the Franciscan nurses and staff for helping calm her fears. They called her regularly while Higdon was on the ventilator, updating her as much as possible on his condition. Even though she couldn’t be with him, they helped her feel connected, she said.

“They were just wonderful. I thank God for them,” she said.

Doctors estimated he’d have to remain in the hospital for a few weeks for in-patient therapy, which he needed to recover. But the next day, he walked more than 600 feet and was ready to do more. A few days later, he was allowed to go home.

One session later, his physical therapists completely released him because he was up and moving.

“He’s such a strong-willed kid,” Smith said. “He still has a little bit of balance to get back, and we have a little road ahead of us in terms of figuring out medication and making sure he’s got everything he needs. But we’re in a good place, and very blessed to have him back with us.”

Higdon was in the hospital for 10 days. During that time, Whiteland FFA alumni members devised a way to show him support when he returned home.

Rhodes has been friends with Higdon since they were in kindergarten, living on a farm less than a mile away. That friendship endured through high school.

With his interest in tractors, Higdon would always ask when the school’s Tractor Day was — when FFA students would drive their tractors to school. It was an event that he’d never miss.

So when Rhodes learned about Higdon’s hospitalization, he knew something involving tractors would be ideal.

“It broke my heart seeing that he was in the hospital. I wanted to do something where he would remember this and it would make him happy,” he said.

Rhodes and other FFA Alumni members started working to spread the word among the Whiteland and Clark Township communities. Collin Overfelt, Whiteland FFA Alumni vice president, helped distribute flyers to farmers in the area.

They weren’t sure what the response would be, but they wanted to try.

“We know it’s a busy time of year, with planting and everything going on. I know farmers are trying to get all of the crops in the ground, so it might be a hard thing to get all the farmers to this parade,” Rhodes said. “We’ve got a good response from people.”

Smith learned about it from FFA members, and was taken aback by the gesture.

In advance of the parade, Higdon said he was excited to see all his friends and neighbors. It was much better than being at the hospital, he said. His father brought his antique tractor over so he could sit on it while the tractors went by Tuesday night.