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Randy Knight Nearly Died in Puerto Rico. His Teammates Saved His Life

by on March 27, 2018
Randy Knight (center) is flanked by Bill Wilson (left) and Betty Lou Magnuson. Wilson and Magnuson were two of several employees who came to Knight’s aid when he became critically ill while coordinating restoration efforts in Puerto Rico.

(Story by Scott Fuller)

Like many of our employees, Randy Knight is hardwired to jump in and help when he’s needed. That’s why he raised his hand to volunteer for duty in Puerto Rico, joining AEP’s Incident Management Team to coordinate restoration efforts on the island.

The trip did not go as planned. Knight almost died during his deployment. He was able to make it home safely because of only one reason: His teammates had his back. And now the entire group is being recognized for their commitment to Zero Harm.

“The Incident Management Team literally saved my life,” Knight says.

AEP Hero Award

  • Betty Lou Magnuson – Distribution Dispatching Trouble Coordinator (AEP Ohio)
  • Bruce Hoover – Distribution Line Coordinator Senior (Indiana Michigan Power)
  • Lisa Boggs – Distribution Line Coordinator Senior (Public Service Company of Oklahoma)

AEP Act of Extraordinary Kindness

  • Bill Wilson – Distribution Dispatching Trouble Coordinator Senior (AEP Ohio)
  • Alex Ramirez – Manager Distribution System (AEP Texas)
  • Robert De Leon – Region Support Manager (AEP Texas)
  • Chris Baucom – Safety & Health Manager (Public Service Company of Oklahoma)
  • Mac Simpkins – Manager Distribution System (Appalachian Power)
  • James S. Lyles – Distribution Dispatching Manager (Southwestern Electric Power Company)

 

‘I was getting sicker by the minute’

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, it devastated the island and left thousands of people without water or electricity for months – the longest blackout in U.S. history. The restoration effort is slow and challenging, but those involved are working hard to try to bring power back. AEP employees on the island have been asked to work 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for an expected duration of about 45 days.

The Incident Management Team was the initial group of AEP employees providing on-the-ground support. They arrived in early January to set up logistics and prepare for the first wave of linemen arriving a few weeks later. Knight, a distribution dispatching manager who has been with AEP for 29 years, has the knowledge and supervisory experience that was highly valuable to the work.

The team had just settled into the job when, after only a few days, Knight became extremely sick. He suffered from an upset stomach, dizziness, severe diarrhea and vomiting – most likely from food poisoning. He went to the hotel to rest and get better. He didn’t.

“I was getting sicker by the minute,” Knight said. “It just wouldn’t stop. I wasn’t sure I was going to be alert enough for much longer to even ask for help if I needed it.”

Knight’s illness was especially serious given his history with Type 1 diabetes, a condition in which the pancreas produces very little insulin (a hormone that allows sugar to produce energy). Knight has to constantly monitor his sugar and uses an insulin pump to maintain healthy levels.

With food poisoning wracking his body, Knight’s sugar levels dropped. The situation quickly became critical. Magnuson, Boggs and Hoover stopped by his room to check on him and drop off some laundry, and knew something was wrong. Knight was sweating profusely, cold to the touch and he was shaking from chills. They called an ambulance. He was taken to the hospital, examined and released.

A second opinion

Doctors had recommended that Knight return to his room and rest. But back at the hotel, he didn’t seem any better at all. (The Spanish language barrier hadn’t helped the situation.) Knight was barely responsive and required a wheelchair to get to his room. The team decided to maintain constant surveillance and get him additional medical care.

The ambulance returned. Knight was taken to another hospital and treated for dehydration, low blood sugar and, most dangerously, failing kidneys. He was in the intensive care unit for two days and two more in a regular hospital room. (“The team hasn’t told me everything – I’m sure I would be even more embarrassed if I knew all the details,” Knight said.) He slowly recovered and Magnuson, Boggs and the rest of the team kept watch the entire time.

Knight wanted to stay in Puerto Rico, but out of concern for his safety, he was flown back to the United States as soon as he was physically able.

Before returning to work in Ohio, Knight was checked out by his doctor, who ran his own tests and reviewed the lab work from Puerto Rico. The doctor’s diagnosis: The Incident Management Team had saved Knight’s life by taking him back to the hospital for a second opinion and treating his failing kidneys. Without immediate medical care, he probably wouldn’t have lived through the night.

‘I am so thankful’

Looking back, Knight is humbled by the abundance of care and caution that his teammates displayed. It’s the embodiment of Zero Harm and what we constantly strive to do: look out for each other to make sure we get home safe every day.

“We all work for a great company. AEP was willing to do whatever it took to make sure I was taken care of,” Knight said. “I am forever grateful and indebted to this team and this company. They checked in on me the entire time and I am so thankful. My family is happy, too.”

Knowing your limitations and speaking up is an important part of staying safe. Knight believes one thing that may have helped him was, on the first day they were together, he stood in front of the room and told them about his diabetes. He showed everyone his pump and let them know that if he stared acting strangely then he may need orange juice, a soda or candy to keep his sugar up. The reminder caught his team’s attention, and it helped them make better decisions at a critical moment.

While this story has a happy ending, Knight’s hardwired determination never left. A bitter taste remains. His near-death experience is only part of what he’ll remember from Puerto Rico: He continues to think about a mission unfulfilled.

“Though I went back to work and was feeling better every day, I checked in with team every day while they were there. I missed them very much,” Knight said. “It was very hard for me to leave them behind and not finish my mission. I didn’t want to let my team down.”

From → News From AEP

One Comment
  1. Thankful for your return to health and much admiration to you and the team for providing essential assistance to Puerto Rico and efforts to restore power to its people.

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