Clinton Man Knows First-hand the Dangers Road Workers Face
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
From 1995 to 2002, 844 U.S. workers were killed while working at road construction sites — and more than half were hit by a vehicle or equipment. On Nov. 2, Brian Jones almost joined their ranks.
Jones of Clinton was well aware of the risks of his profession. On any given day, his “office” might be the center lane of an interstate teeming with distracted drivers.
But on Nov. 2, Jones thought he was relatively safe as he worked in an outside lane of Highway 80 West in Clinton. He was in front of Mississippi College, behind a barricade of traffic barrels, dutifully clad in a hard hat and a hard-to-miss orange safety vest.
Intent on his duties, Jones didn’t hear or see the driver careening into his workspace. Next thing he knew, he was the hood ornament on a car going an estimated 50 miles per hour.
“The car carried me 50 feet and slammed into the back of our work truck and got my buddy who was standing there. It flipped me 12 feet in the air. I landed face down and a doctor who worked at Mississippi College was coming by and started taking care of me. He probably saved my life.”
Jones says he was “out of it” for about a month. When he finally did come to his senses, the 41-year-old was a far cry from the guy who could swing a 16-pound sledge hammer all day.
Bones in both legs and his left arm were broken and his forehead was gashed. But the worst of it was a fractured back and a damaged spinal cord. Jones was now a paraplegic.
“I asked why did this happen to me,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think to tell you the truth. But it’s not going to hold me back.”
Jones arrived at Methodist Rehabilitation Center on Nov. 30, eager to take advantage of the hospital’s comprehensive spinal cord injury program. But he faced a complicated convalescence, said program Medical Director Dr. Samuel Grissom.
Therapy for his spinal cord injury was hindered by his multiple open leg fractures and wounds that required skin grafts. “We had to work in concert with his orthopedist, who was dealing with the healing of his bones, and the plastic surgeon, who was doing the skin grafting,” Dr. Grissom said.
Therapists also had to work around Jones’ spinal fracture, which doctors opted not to fix surgically. “Because his medical condition was so fragile and required prolonged intensive care, they opted to use a clamshell brace to immobilize his spine so the bone could slowly heal, instead,” Dr. Grissom said.
Made of hard plastic and stretching from his collar bones to the groin, the brace’s rigid design limited the therapeutic exercises Jones could perform. But he did what he could, especially after he saw other patients improving. “I saw it was helping them, so I thought I better get with the program if I wanted to get well,” he said.
After the brace was removed, Jones threw himself into therapy with renewed vigor. By May, he was pushing his wheelchair up the long hill in front of Methodist Rehab and anticipating the day he could go home for good.
“The brace was limiting because he could not lean forward and that made all his mobility more difficult,” said Methodist Rehab physical therapist Gina McRae. “Once he got the brace off, he knew he could be more independent and really started working harder. He wanted to do everything for himself.”
Jones knows he can’t go back to the job he loved, but he believes there is still a place for him in the construction industry. “I’m going to get my GED and start taking college courses,” he said. His ambition is to get a degree in computer-aided design and do civil engineering drawings.
But he’ll always have a concern for the workers who help build the roadways. “Every day is a risk out there,” he said. “Road workers get run over all the time.”
Brian Jones discusses therapy goals with Dr. Samuel Grissom, medical director of Methodist Rehab’s spinal cord injury program.
Physical therapist Gina McRae helps Brian Jones practice hill climbing in his wheelchair.