Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Life Destroyed, then Resurrected By Workplace Injury

I occasionally get accused of only writing depressing stories. So here's an upper.

Sean George marched in Pittsburgh's annual Labor Day Parade yesterday, "proud of being a worker, proud of being a steamfitter, and proud of being a survivor."

The media -- this blog included -- generally gives most attention to workplace deaths. Injured workers are generally not newsworthy enough to cover in the news, and are often thought "lucky" to have survived, especially when others died. Little thought is given to the fact that many workplace injuries are serious, life-altering experiences from which many workers never recover. This is the story of one injured worker who hit bottom, but managed to rise again.

Sean George survived horrific burns in a gas explosion in 1975 while trying to start a boiler. Another worker was killed in the explosion. They were working without exlosive gas meters and the gas had either not been scented or the scent had been absorbed by the carbon steel pipe.

He not only survived 30 operations for the disfiguring burns he received, but also drug addiction and deep depression: "Ahead were decades of self-loathing and self-discovery, a journey of hellish lows and surprising highs, a search for a way back to his life and his work."

George eventually overcame his obstacles and today uses his experience to talk to workers about workplace safety:
"I was convinced of that and I realized I had the ability to perhaps change people's lives. In my life, that is the single most powerful thing I've experienced, even more than the spiritual experience. To be given this gift, it's priceless," said George, now 48 and living in McMurray.

"I got to a point when I was about 40 when I realized I had never given anything back to society. I spent the first 40 years of my life pleasing myself or recovering from the burns and I started to try to search.

"This was dropped in my lap. It makes me feel worthwhile, it makes me feel useful. I have a purpose now."

He has given presentations to 15 organizations, most recently in Maryland, and is even exploring being represented by speaker's bureaus in either Washington, D.C., or Santa Monica, Calif.

George's story has become so well known in the construction trades that he was given a key role in a Workers Memorial Day event in Market Square, Downtown, in April -- ringing a bell every time the name of a worker killed on the job in Allegheny County was read.

Fit, friendly, and self-assured, George now describes his life as "a phenomenal journey."

Today, he'll march in Pittsburgh's annual Labor Day Parade, proud of being a worker, proud of being a steamfitter, and proud of being a survivor.

"I've had an incredible life with such a wide range of experiences and opportunities. The rewards are really starting to come now. I wouldn't trade places with anyone."
Thanks to Donna Spadaro for sending me this.