Lineman puts life on line with ladder fall

“The job was supposed to take five minutes,” said Journey Line Technician Donnie Mak, describing the task of cleaning maple keys, or “helicopters,” out of his eaves. This routine chore was the only thing standing between himself and enjoying the rest of a perfect spring day.

Donnie had just finished mowing his lawn last May 4 when he glanced up and noticed the helicopters infiltrating his gutters. Because rain was forecasted for the weekend, he grabbed a ladder and propped it levelly against the house, making sure it extended a foot-and-a-half above the roof. The ladder slipped at the exact moment Donnie stepped one foot onto the roof.

As precious seconds to reclaim his footing slipped by, Donnie fell backwards off the ladder from 10 feet in the air, landing on the small of his back on the unrelenting cement sidewalk below. Unable to breathe or move, he gasped for air as he called for his wife to no avail. Finally, dragging himself on his stomach along the ground, Donnie called successfully to his wife once more from the garage door before collapsing in exhaustion.

A trip to the hospital revealed Donnie sustained a compressed fracture to his lumbar 1 vertebrae, a broken and separated pelvis, and torn ligaments to his groin.

“Although no surgery was required, I was advised to minimize movement and weight to the injured areas, wear a brace unless showering or in bed, and simply give my injuries sufficient time to heal,” said Donnie. “The pain was so intense I couldn’t sleep. Worst, though, was that I couldn’t be the active biker and work out enthusiast I am.”

Donnie was able to return to work on light duty on July 12, but doctoral authorization to return to his career as a lineman is still pending. He hopes to get full release at his next follow-up doctor appointment on Nov. 20.

The accident put the importance of safety into perspective for Donnie.

“It could have been so much worse — I could have fallen from higher and broken my neck,”  he said. “We take for granted those routine chores around the household we’ve done hundreds of times. Being a lineman, I’m used to climbing poles and ladders, and I’m not afraid of heights. A no-brainer of a chore makes me rethink how I perform every job now – no matter how big or small.”

So, what else does Donnie take away from the accident?

“I should have told my wife where I was and what I was doing and asked her to hold the ladder for me,” he said. “The time it takes to heal and return to a normal life is, to this day, ongoing. I want to bike again. I want my active lifestyle back.”