Never give up

In 2004, Livingston native Ronnie Hindsman was doing what he’d done a thousand times before – a simple job out of a bucket truck for the Sam Houston Electric Cooperative, where he’d been working for more than 25 years. It was a job he’d done so many times that he didn’t bother wearing rubber gloves.

“There are things some people just get too comfortable working on,” Hindsman said. “There was some miscommunication between me and the foreman.”

On a typical utility pole, a power distribution wire will have a standard voltage of 7,200 volts. Hindsman didn’t realize the wire was still live and reached up and grabbed it. His other hand was on the bucket control, which was all metal.

Hindsman said he couldn’t clearly remember the electrical shock that changed the rest of his life.

“I only remember some of the accident,” he said. “I didn’t know anything for five days.”

The high-voltage accident put him in a coma and cost him both of his arms above the elbow. Hindsman, who was 39 at the time of the accident, spent 45 days at UTMB in Galveston, followed by two weeks of additional rehabilitation and surgery on his shoulder at Memorial Hermann.

Hindsman, an avid outdoorsman, was told he was lucky to be alive after surviving a 7,200-volt shock, but he would never be able to enjoy fishing or hunting ever again.

“Some people just give up,” Hindsman said, “but that’s just not me. After I woke up from the coma, I told my wife it wasn’t going to hold me down. I was going to get up, and I was going to keep doing what I enjoyed doing.”

Hindsman was referred to prosthetist Ted Muilenburg.

“I saw Ronnie three times in December 2004, and almost 30 times in 2005,” said Muilenburg with Muilenburg Prosthetics. “I spent a lot of time with him in order to build the prostheses that would suit his needs.”

Many patients come to Muilenburg looking for miracles, he said.

“They really drive you to try everything that you possibly can to help them,” Muilenburg said. “I put myself in their situation and ask, ‘What would I do?’ We’re trying to make the impossible work.”

Having no electric components is unusual for someone with amputations to both arms, Muilenburg said. When Hindsman decided he didn’t want to use the electric wrist but two conventional ones instead, Muilenburg told him it wouldn’t work.

“He said, ‘I’ll make it work,’” Muilenburg said. “Even though he could barely do it at first, he was able to make it work well enough for him, so it was better than an electric wrist.”

On his right side, Ronnie uses a standard five hook made of titanium and a Texas Assistive Device (TAD) Five-Function Wrist. He has an internal locking that he’s getting them done.

At home, Hindsman and his wife have settled back into a routine – though it’s a different routine. After an initial adjustment period, he no longer needs her help with getting dressed.

For Hindsman, the process is ongoing.

“I’m always thinking about how to do things,” he said. “I figure it out.”

Today, Hindsman, 51, works as training safety inspector at Sam Houston Electric Cooperative, where he has now worked for more than 30 years, doing a lot of new-hire training.

His personal story comes up at work, and respecting safety rules is an important part of the training. His hooks serve as a reminder to anyone he finds not using a hardhat or rubber gloves.

Hindsman now speaks at a variety of electrical companies, stressing the importance of following proper safety protocol. He has chosen not to receive payment from these seminars, instead asking the companies to donate directly to Lamar Institute of Technology (LIT) in Beaumont to provide utility line scholarships.

“I’ve been to several other co-ops in the state of Texas,” he said. “I have a 20-minute video that I made to talk about my accident. I show it first … then talk about my accident and take questions.

“I always tell them if they see something wrong or they think somebody’s doing something wrong to say something. Don’t do something that’s not safe. Always say something about it, and make sure they have their personal protection equipment on and use it,” Hindsman said. “The main thing is that they use their gloves, hard hat and safety dress. A lot of them probably get tired of hearing about safety from their supervisor or safety coordinator, but when they see me up there talking about it, and see the way I am, it probably opens their eyes up a lot. If I can help keep other linesmen from getting hurt, then it’s well worth it.”

LIT recognized Hindsman for his donations Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, with a scholarship in his name benefiting utility line students. Since November 2011, LIT has received donations totaling $11,954.18 from more than 15 companies, including Hindsman’s employer, Sam Houston Electric Co-op.

Hindsman offered advice for other people who might be struggling with adapting to life with a disability.

“Never give up on yourself and life,” Hindsman said. “There’s too much out there.”

Photo courtesy of Muilenburg Prosthetics