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May 2016

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IBEW Lineman Back on the High Line after Amputation

Monroe, N.Y., Local 503 member Glenn Hampson knew what was wrong before he even hit the pavement.

Hampson was on his motorcycle, riding to a jobsite on Orange & Rockland Utility's high-voltage transmission system just north of New York City. It was a warm August morning in 2012, but he was wearing his helmet, leather jacket, gloves and lineman's boots.

As a parade of cars headed toward New York on this four-lane road near Goshen, Hampson was headed the other way.

Clear roads to work was one of the many, many things he loved about his job.

"I have the best job in the world," Hampson said. "Not one job is better than mine."

A car in a hurry, looking to merge into city-bound traffic from a parking lot on Hampson's right, roared out into the road without a glance his way.

In between the anvil of his motorcycle's engine and the hammer of the car's bumper was Hampson's shin. Bike and body went airborne.

"I never lost consciousness. I knew exactly what was wrong," Hampson said. "I just hoped I wouldn't land in oncoming traffic."

He did.

He shattered the back of his helmet, and as he blacked out, he saw a car heading toward him slow, stop and then nothing but whiteness.

Everything in this story from here forward is good news. The worst was over. There were hard days for Hampson and his wife Anya. He would be in the hospital for more than two months and endure more than a year of physical therapy and multiple surgeries, but starting at this moment lying on the road was when things stopped going wrong.

He landed in front of a doctor.

"He was very comforting. He let me know help was on the way," Hampson said.

Hampson has worked on Orange & Rockland's extra high voltage team since 2000. They work on everything from 68-kilovolt transmission lines up to the 500 kv trunk lines that carry electricity from one side of the country to the other.

"Glenn is an incredible guy," said Local 503 Business Manager Scott Jensen. "The day he woke up in the recovery room he was exercising, doing pull ups in bed, doing curls with a backpack filled with books. He was clear from the beginning that he would be back."

Hampson left with no illusions: trying to keep the foot would be a sentimental waste of time. Likely pointless, guaranteed risky and painful.

"I knew there was no way my leg would heal. I studied up on prosthetics and it was a no-brainer. The progress has been incredible," Hampson said.

He Googled "extreme sport prosthetics" and began looking for the fake foot that would return him to his real life. His first step was nearly eliminating his use of painkillers.

"The guy in the room with me in the hospital was maxed out on painkillers and always asking for more. I knew the utility would never let me climb if I was on painkillers," Hampson said.

By the time he left the hospital in February 2013, he was taking only Tylenol.

Hampson spent a winter in physical therapy, going crazy stuck in the house on crutches. But it was a huge improvement over the early days of PT back in the hospital where merely getting up after months in bed took hours. Each day was a mixture of working out, keeping positive, and stretching. Lots of stretching.

Hampson's first prosthetic was simple and temporary. The first thing he did when he got the prosthetic home in March was try on the metal hooks that strap to a lineman's boots.

"They felt OK. And there are poles all along my street and I started stepping up," he said. "It felt fine, there was no pain. It wasn't awkward. That is how it started for real. I knew it was possible, I can easily go back."

When his sick leave had been used up, he went out on long-term medical leave, allowing him to continue receiving part of his salary. As 2013 came to a close, it was clear he was ready to get back to work.

"I am so thankful I had a union job when this happened," he said. "If I hadn't, I would have been [in a difficult position]."

In February 2014, Hampson went in to work for a function test from the company doctor. He was wearing a prosthetic built by a specialist in Florida who outfitted X-Games competitors, skiers, runners and cops. He had a climbing hook that worked with flat-bottomed boots, but anyone could wear the setup.

"He knew he could do it. He practiced on his own and aced that test," Jensen said. "There was no issue. He was maybe better than before the accident, to be honest."

Hampson has been back on the job for just over two years.

"After the accident, we never thought he would come back to the team, because of the rough terrain, let alone climb towers," said Local 503 member and extra high voltage crew member Douglas Peifer. "Today, there are no special arrangements, he uses everything we use as if nothing was different. You watch him climb or move around, you would never know unless he rolled up his pants and showed you that prosthetic. It is incredible."

"Glenn doesn't hinder us, he is an asset. He isn't limited by this at all," Peifer said.

For Hampson, this is just his life, back again.

"At this point, I am back doing what I'm supposed to be doing," he said. "Back to the high line, loving it every day."

Glenn wanted to thank his brothers and sisters at Local 503 for the friendship and support and the local office staff who helped him wade through the disability system.

He especially wanted to thank his wife Anya.

"There are so many people who helped me but only one person went through it too," he said.

Peifer's video of Glenn Hampson doing a tower inspection is posted here.


Monroe, N.Y., Local 503 member Glenn Hampson lost his foot in a motorcycle accident but never lost his love of life as a lineman.