Dan Nelson and new wife Kendra were married in October, 2001. (They invited ENG Safety page author Mark Bell to the festive nuptuals.) It was a wonderful milestone in Dan's life after his crippling accident, as was the birth of Matthew in 2004.Dan Nelson's Family
 
 

A letter from Dan...............

“Dance with the Electric Devil.”
A.KA:  Dan Nelson’s live truck accident.

In March 1993 I got a call from the Chief Photographer of WINK, Fort Myers, FL.  I had been working at KSWO-TV in Lawton, Oklahoma for 10 months and was looking for a way out. I was hired over the phone and resigned the next day.

I rented a U-Haul trailer and started at WINK in mid to late March of 1993. Initially I worked weekends performing the usual duties of a news photographer.

This included live truck operation.  The main truck I used for live shots at the time was an old suburban with the usual kind of microwave system.  I was shown how to turn on the equipment, raise the mast and tune in a shot. Another photographer on staff did this training.  There was nothing mentioned about safety.  About a year later the station ordered two new live trucks. When they arrived, we were shown, again, how to turn on the equipment and how to tune in a shot. We were also given a booklet containing step-by-step information on how to operate the equipment in the racks. There was apparently one page in this manual about electrical safety. If I remember right it was a copy of the warning sign(s) that were posted in the truck about watching for power lines.

On July 19, 1995  I was assigned to work with a reporter in the Charlotte County Bureau for a few days. I had been told to meet her at the bureau early for a six a.m. live shot. I got up about 3:30 a.m., went to the station, and picked up the live truck, then drove north to the bureau.

We drove north on highway 41 into southern Sarasota County.  She directed me into an area that had been flooding from heavy rain. The road was completely covered in water in some areas. We drove up and down the road looking for a place to set up. She wanted to be in an area where water was visible over the road, so we stopped in the Rambler’s Rest Campground driveway.

I parked the truck on partially dry asphalt but still close to the water in the road.  I have a vague memory of opening the side doors and turning on the equipment. After that it stops. Apparently I started the mast up, unaware of the power line,  and created a ground path from the line to the truck, then through the reporter and I.

My next vague memory is being carried by the emergency medical people.  I think one of them asked me who the president was.    The next was being in the ambulance in pain. All I could feel was my right leg; searing, agonizing pain. The E.M.S. personnel did what they could. We were taken to Venice Hospital.  I remember the E.R. doctors asking questions and moving me around. Records indicate I was in and out of consciousness during this time.  I remember being transferred by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital.  A video shot by the Tampa TV stations showed the reporter and I being taken from the helicopter to the E.R.  The next ten to fifteen days is a fog of pain and memory loss and surgery, although I remember the nightmare of  Dr. Thomas Krizek telling me that they might have to amputate.

Another horrible memory was seeing my parents in the room in the Burn Intensive Care Unit, both in tears because they had apparently just walked in and seen their only son lying in a burn ward after nearly being killed by seven thousand volts.  The following weeks were a haze of drugs and pain.

I remember some of the visits many people made while I was in the ICU. Unfortunately I don’t remember a lot of the conversations.  At one point I had to eat with my left hand because a splint from the graft surgery on my right elbow immobilized my right arm.  The majority of the surgeries were done at this time. Most of the grafts had begun to heal by the time I got out of ICU. The last thing to heal was the residual limb, the medical name of what I was left with. They had to do multiple surgeries on that alone because of infection, and the fact that it was closed with a skin graft.  Every amputee remembers the horrifying sight of waking up and looking down, and I vividly remember waking up and seeing that my right foot and part of my lower leg was gone.  After a wave of despair and loss, my mind seemingly went blank. I’m sure I was depressed for a few days, but doctors and therapists advise acceptance and moving on. They were there to help me recover and learn to walk again, and that’s exactly what they did.

After about ten days in ICU, I was moved to the main burn ward. As time went on, surgeries became fewer and wound care became a constant issue. My memory also started improving. I was tested and followed by a team of neuropsychologists. As it turned out, they would be there with me for years. They were concerned about memory loss or brain injury from the electricity.  I also remember many trips to the treatment rooms so they could wash me and do some wound care. Once, I remember lying down for so long that I passed out when they tried to sit me up. Before I passed out, I remember looking down at my right leg and being horrified at the sight of the ragged tissue at the end of my leg, because they had not yet closed it.

 There was a fairly good flow of visitors, which was nice, and there was also a lot of time spent alone. My parents lived in Oklahoma and could not be with me all the time.

During part of my stay in the main ward, a few doors down was a young boy who had been burned. Every morning the nurses and the patient care assistants would go through all the patients and perform very painful wound care and wound dressing changes. When they began his treatment he would scream loudly. For me it was like a POW listening to the enemy beat the guy in the next cell and knowing you can’t do anything about it. I always knew they were almost to my room when I heard him screaming.  I know it was necessary, but nobody looks forward to it.

When I was alone I thought about what happened and felt guilty. The psychologists I saw helped me with that. I didn’t see much of the reporter during this time, as she was apparently less mobile than I was, and that it made it worse.  I met a guy named Brian Fowler in 1995 while in rehab. Brian had lost all of one leg and been horribly burned in a car wreck in March of 1995. One of the nurses introduced us and we became friends. We’ve been in touch ever since.  Rehab was freedom.  My friends were able to take me off hospital property so we could go hang out. Another of my friends, Kevin, would take me to an area near downtown called Ybor City. It has lots of restaurants and bars.

As for my further treatment, it was all physical therapy. Brian and I had a cute therapist named Carol, who I credited for most, if not all of my physical rehabilitation. She is one of those people who really cared. I can’t thank her enough. Brian and I were her “Dynamic Duo.”  Physical therapy was challenging at first. I had to do exercises to get back the muscle tone I had lost in the ward. I also had an Occupational therapist names Vonda. She helped with treatment of my left wrist and hand. My left palm was numb for a couple months that appears to have been from nerve compression.

My injuries were as follows: Mesh graft on right elbow.  And a fasciotomy scar on my left wrist.  Also, there is a small graft on the top of my wrist where my watch was.  There is a large area of grafting on my right hip and buttock, in some places right down to fatty tissue.  There is a small graft near and around the last toe on my left foot. Right below my knee amputation is skin closed by a graft because too much tissue had died and there wasn’t enough left for a flap.

Even in rehab, I was still aware of what other patients were going through. I had a roommate at one point who was some sort of quadriplegic. He had to be craned in and out of bed and still had an open tracheotomy.  He got a power chair at one point and he used it to run up and down the halls. I guess that was freedom for him. A recreational therapist would take us out to a local mall and Brian and I would go off together and terrorize little kids and stare back at people and make them feel uncomfortable. That was fun for us.

I must mention Donna Barringer, the Case Manager for the Workman’s Compensation Insurance Company. We became friends in rehab mostly because it seemed like she cared about me as a person. She got me everything I needed.

I remember the first time I stood up in the parallel bars wearing my first post-operative prosthesis. That’s an image I’ll never forget, but it wasn’t a bad memory compared to others.

About August 23rd, I discharged from rehab. My parents drove me back to Fort Myers where I was greeted by many coworkers. Thus began outpatient rehab and pretty much a year in and out of a wheelchair. My outpatient therapist was named Ilonka Erades, with whom I did more physical conditioning, plus more walking and gait training. During this period I started working again back at the station as an editor. I would go to therapy in the morning and work nightside editing the eleven. Unfortunately, I didn’t get along with the show producer, but the news director tried to help. After a few months, I started shooting.

Medically, I was still having major problems. My prosthetist would make a new leg, I would walk on it and then a wound would open up on the graft so then I would be back in the wheel chair. I spent a lot of time at the Southwest Florida wound care center. I also did several “dives” in a hyperbaric chamber because the doctors were concerned about infection. In early 1996, Dr.Krizek and I discussed doing a surgical revision of my residual limb. X-rays showed a lot of calcified tissue and abnormal bone growth.  Around the end of April or the beginning of May, I went to Tampa General for the revision surgery. After the surgery I stayed in the burn ward for a couple days then went home. It took about five weeks for the wound to heal, and I had to live in the wheelchair again.  The time between discharge and the revision was very frustrating. I wanted to walk again and I kept getting setbacks because of wound care and prosthetic issues.  Apparently the revision was what I needed, as I’ve not had any wound care problems since.

The reporter came back to work around early 1996.  She acted differently towards me, as if trying to deny my existence. Except for a very short phone conversation in the office of my Attorney, Gordon Harrison, in 1996, and a few times at work, about work, we have not spoken. Later on, she sent a message through her attorneys saying that she didn’t blame me and didn’t think it was my fault.

In October of 1996, I got a job at WFTX-TV the FOX affiliate in Fort Myers.  I was assigned to the Naples bureau.  While working there I did a lot of paperwork for my lawsuit. Leaving WINK was not pretty. The news director thought I was being disloyal because I went to another station in the same market.  As far as I’m concerned I don’t owe them anything, including loyalty. I worked there at WFTX for seven months and left for Wichita in June of 1997.

In the beginning, I had no intention of suing anybody. As time went on and my rehab and wound care issues dragged and dragged, my parents thought I deserved “something” so I asked Gordon if we could start a lawsuit.  I realize that lawsuits don’t solve everything and nobody can make an operator-proof truck, but I can only hope that all these lawsuits will get somebody’s attention.  Apparently the pile of bodies hasn’t.

For the first couple of years, I mostly liked my job at KWCH-TV, and did the best I could.  In May 1999, I met my current girlfriend, Kendra. As our relationship grew, I realized there is more to life than TV news.  By spring 2000, I was ready for a change.

In May of 2000 there was another live truck accident in Los Angeles.  Reporter Adrienne Alpert was seriously injured.  I remember checking the KABC website almost daily to check on her condition.

On June 19th, my case went to trial. There were four defendants, manufacturers you are all familiar with. All but one settled the case before trial. We went to trial in the city of St. Louis against the last. After two days, they settled.  On July 19th, 2000 I left KWCH-TV. I will never work in local TV news again.   After what I, and others, have been through, I hope there’s a significant shift in the procedures within the industry.