CARRBORO — Farmer Rob Hogan is probably best known for being the caretaker of Rameses XVIII, UNC-Chapel Hill's latest in a long line of football mascots who lived at the Carrboro farm.
Hogan, 54, was critically injured Sept. 15 when he missed a step on his tractor, landing hard on his left leg.
He faces another round of surgery this week for the resulting internal injuries, his family said, with Sunday being the first day he hadn't faced the surgeon's scalpel since the accident. Hogan remains in critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit at UNC Hospitals.
The accident also kept Rameses from attending UNC's first home game of the season, the Sept. 17 game against Georgia Tech. It's unlikely the ram or Hogan will be at any games this year, said Regina Leonard, a sister-in-law of Hogan's wife Ann.
"It's just a shock that a fall started all of this," said Chris Hogan, a cousin who lives nearby. "We're just waiting and watching, trying to help any way we can."
The injury interrupts a weekend ritual to prepare the Dorset sheep for his gridiron appearance. Every home game, Hogan gives Rameses a bath and touches up the water-based, Carolina blue paint on his horns. Then he guides the ram onto the back of his gray pickup for the short drive to Kenan Stadium.
Sometimes he has an audience, said local farmer Jack Short, who sells produce at the 253-year-old farm on Old N.C. 86.
And once in a while, someone will ask if the ram is born with horns that blue.
Hogan, 54, was working late one evening and was getting off the tractor when he missed the last step, landing hard on his left leg. It didn't seem that bad, his wife, Ann, wrote later on the online journal CaringBridge.
By the next morning, however, Hogan's leg was numb, and he couldn't move it. An ambulance took him to UNC Hospitals, where doctors have been treating him for rhabdomyolysis.
The condition is caused when the tissue around an injured muscle starts to die and releases toxins into the body that can damage the kidneys.
Chris Hogan, who lives nearby, was at Hogan's Magnolia View Farm all last week helping family, friends and neighbors get in the hay, milk the cows and feed the animals.
Ann, who is the vice president for iPas, a nonprofit global health group, wrote last Wednesday that the response from farmers and the community has been overwhelming.
"I can't really express how much it means to me and how much it will mean to Rob when he hears," she said.
Holding out hope
Since the fall, Rob Hogan has had several tests and surgeries, said Ann's sister-in-law, Regina Leonard. Doctors have removed part of his left hip and upper leg, and he's on dialysis. The damage has spread to his abdomen, too, forcing the removal of a large part of his colon and intestines. His kidneys are not functioning, Leonard said.
Late this week, Hogan opened his eyes slightly and squeezed the nurse's hand, Leonard said. By the weekend, he was breathing more on his own, with help from the respirator, although he remained unconscious. "We're very cautiously optimistic," Leonard said. "They are basically going to do surgery on him every day for the next week."
The family has asked that well-wishers not visit the ICU waiting room. Other families need the small room, too, and most people can't visit with him now anyway, they said.
"It's very overwhelming to have too many people there," Leonard said. "It's not that we don't want to feel their love."
She said the family has come from all over to be at his side and help keep the farm going.
A 'man of honor'
"It just seems wherever he goes, he leaves such a lasting impression," she said. "It's been wonderful to read the entries on the [CaringBridge] website, and it really lifted this family a lot."
Local farmer Jack Short said Hogan is a "man of honor" who would do anything he could to help someone else.
"I couldn't sing his praises any more," he said, looking across Hogan's field. "I can't even start to tell you how much he means to everybody."
Everyone also had high praise for Daniel, Hogan's oldest son, who at 26 has stepped up to run the farm in his absence. The Hogans have two younger sons, as well: James, 16, and Henry, 13.
Leonard said the farm is operating as usual and the family will be selling meat this weekend. It will be a long time before Hogan can farm again, she said.
"Really just their prayers and good thoughts is what he wants from everybody," Leonard said.