By Gillian Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Seventeen years ago, Lorne Jackson woke up in a hospital bed in Calgary thinking his life was over. The Pincher Creek resident spent eight months recovering in the burn ward of Foothills Hospital after being electrocuted on the job while plowing backcountry roads in winter.
It was a long road to recovery, he says, but ultimately it was the community support that got him through.
Now he’s intent on raising awareness of workplace injuries and has focused on spreading messages of support to individuals who face similar circumstances.
On April 28 — a sunny spring day with a healthy dose of wind — he took to the podium set up in front of the town hall to share his wisdom with a small crowd of town councillors and town staff.
Known throughout Canada as National Day of Mourning, the day of observance commemorates workers who have been killed or injured or have suffered from illness due to accidents or exposure to toxic substances while on the job.
After the event, Lorne shared his story with Shootin’ the Breeze.
It was February when the accident occurred, he recalled. He was out plowing snow for the MD of Pincher Creek near Burmis on a one-lane road with a dead end. The sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon.
His grader collided with a power pole, which came loose and crashed down on top of the vehicle, sending electric shocks through his body.
“It got me pretty bad through my arms and hands and sort of blew me back in my seat…. I watched the front wheels start roasting. There was smoke pouring off of them and big chunks of rubber flying 20, 30 feet in the air,” he remembered.
“I don’t know exactly what happened. I don’t know how the injury to my face occurred, but I wound up with a great big hole in my cheek.”
The door of the vehicle came loose and he managed to climb out. By this point he had already lost some mobility and his arms and legs were weak, so he crawled for 45 minutes to the nearest farmhouse.
“On my way to that house I just kept saying the names of my wife and my kids over and over. I’m not a go-to-church-Sunday kind of guy, but you know, I looked up and I prayed to God to let me go home to my family again,” he said.
Choosing that particular farmhouse was a gamble, said Lorne. The owner, Shirley Sara, was almost never home, but as a nurse, she was his best hope. Luck was on his side that night, however. Shirley answered when he rang the doorbell and she called an ambulance.
The next thing Lorne knew, he was waking up in the hospital eight months later, having been in a medically induced coma.
“I woke up from that coma to the shock of not seeing my legs, and my arms were nothing but masses of bandages. You know, I couldn’t move. I pretty much thought my life was over.”
As doctors would later tell him, he almost died three times the night of the accident — twice in the STARS air ambulance and once at the hospital — and he was in the one per cent of individuals who survive such severe incidents.
He lost both his legs from the knee down, relying on prostheses from that day forward, but after five years of near constant physical therapy and medical visits, his life began to return to normal.
His fine motor skills are still weaker and his sense of feeling is not quite as it should be, he said, but for the most part he’s doing well — better than the doctors initially predicted.
Lorne shares his story on occasion to raise awareness and build support for people who have suffered workplace injuries. Although people are more informed today and there are better programs, he said, more work needs to be done toward empowering workers to speak out when conditions look unsafe.
“If a worker sees something that they don’t think is right, a lot of times they won’t speak up because they think there’s going to be repercussions from doing that,” he explained. “If we had a national program to address that, I think that would be a good thing.”
Mayor Don Anderberg echoed this statement at the event. Last year, an Alberta worker’s life was lost every two days, he said, a tragedy that can be reduced by encouraging situational awareness and letting workers know they have the right to refuse a task if it appears to be unsafe.
Lorne said he never would have made such a solid recovery if it wasn’t for the support of Pincher Creek residents. He had a steady stream of visitors while at the hospital, and knowing others had his back, he developed a greater sense of optimism.
“Having a positive attitude in the face of adversity can take you a long way,” he said.
This item reprinted with permission from Shootin’ the Breeze, Pincher Creek, Alberta