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Stories that Shape Lives

At NSC, we understand the importance of safety better than anyone. Here, our staff share the stories -- of siblings, spouses, parents and friends -- that make safety personal to them.

Safety is Personal: Amy Stewart

Certified safety professional Amy Stewart and I began following one another on Twitter before connecting through a more primitive means.

Do you remember postcards? Amy did, and her choice to sporadically send me one from her Mount Vernon, Ohio, home around the holidays years ago still brings delight.

For many falls thereafter, we found one another after Opening Session of the NSC Safety Congress & Expo to say hello. Even in a sea of thousands, the pursuit proved rather easy; Amy, who long engaged with the National Safety Council’s Transportation Safety Division, usually sat in the front row.

Her presence at each show and around the occupational safety world will now endure in spirit. Amy, 65, died at her home in October after a short illness. The sad news reached my mailbox in February, courtesy of a letter from a friend of Amy.

I’ll miss my association with Amy, no question, but in the tradition of our last face-to-face encounter and its unexpected parting gifts, aspire to keep the essence going.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a college professor with whom I’ve remained in touch wrote about a baseball beat writer who I grew up reading. The story of the beat writer’s penchant for penning postcards while traveling around North America inspired me on multiple levels.

This coupled with a high school classmate’s social media post about still staying close with his kindergarten teacher sent me into writing. Whether by letter or postcard, I sought to swat away the disconnectedness of the pandemic – one stamp at a time.

I didn’t get the opportunity to tell Amy of this hobby until September, when we reconnected at the 2022 NSC Congress & Expo in San Diego. She smiled at the story and my recollection of her holiday postcard, which showed horses and other features of her home. She then reached into her bag to offer a handful of postcards adorned with the American flag.

That day, I found a mailbox near the hotel to see whether one of Amy’s Old Glories could beat her back to central Ohio.

That week, I met the baseball beat writer in question on the hotel elevator. He was in town to cover a series at San Diego’s Petco Park, and I’d returned from a souvenir shop to buy what else? Postcards.

It all seemed serendipitous then, but learning about Amy’s death reinforced the power of relationships, even those that we might only revisit occasionally. 

Human connection is a vital fuel that can boost worker engagement and performance. Are there challenges to recreating camaraderie amid the expansion of remote work and hybrid office environments? Of course. But employers still try. 

Some aim to channel water-cooler talk and laughter by being more conversational during portions of virtual team meetings. Others organize virtual trivia nights, escape rooms or related activities. 

The proverbial “old school” remains in session, too. Well before our phone cameras processed photos by the second and 140 characters were king, there was volleying communication via the “Pony Express.” 

It may be outdated, but it still is effective. The late Amy Stewart, CSP, bears proof.

By Kevin Druly
Associate Editor of Publications at NSC

Mother, Sister, Wife, Friend: Meaningful Life Suddenly Ends

The headline read: Beaver woman dies in road accident, young baby receives massive head injuries. 

A 24-year-old Beaver woman, Kelly Dawn McFarland, was killed in a one-vehicle accident, six miles south and 10 miles west of Laverne, Oklahoma, on US 270 Sunday at 7:50 p.m., according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. A daughter, Katie Dawn, age 1, was taken to Newman Memorial Hospital, then transferred to an Amarillo hospital, with massive head injuries. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said the vehicle was westbound and ran off the road for 377 feet, then back across the road for 89 feet. The vehicle continued for 77 feet, then rolled over 4 1/2 times before coming to a rest on its top. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said seat belts were equipped but were not in use. The child was in a car seat and the driver of the car was ejected. 

This is my “safety is personal” story. It has molded my career and my entire life. My mom was amazing - a dedicated stay-a-home mom until that June summer day. Her decision not to wear a seat belt changed my life forever. I suffered zero long-term physical effects from the crash, but I continue to take every opportunity to use my public speaking ability to educate others on the importance of seat belt and child restraint use. Through high school and college, I volunteered with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Safe Kids Oklahoma and other organizations with this shared mission. Later, as a child passenger safety technician and instructor working at the Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma, I was able to help caregivers learn the importance of car seat safety and buckling up themselves so they could be there for their own family later in life.

Then, as an adult, I fell in love with someone with a substance use disorder without knowing this experience would continue to mold my life and career. As I navigated having a young family and my husband’s struggle with alcohol, I learned the heartbreaking challenges in front of our communities and families dealing with substance abuse and misuse. My experience with law enforcement, the substance abuse recovery community and judicial system prepared me for experience working on public policy and improving public safety systems in Oklahoma, as well as for this part of my career at NSC working on the impairment team. These experiences continue to shape me and my family. I’m thankful for NSC and our mission to save lives. The work we are doing is worth it. I am living proof!

By Katie Mueller
Senior Program Manager, NSC Impairment Practice

This Story Happens 100 Times a Day

It was mid-March 1981 when safety became personal to me. I was just 13 years old. 

One of my five older sisters woke me up early. I mumbled to her, “I don’t need to deliver the newspapers yet.” She told me to come downstairs right away.

It was 6 a.m., and my five older sisters and my older brother’s girlfriend were all sitting around the kitchen table. My parents weren’t there. That’s when I was told, “Bob’s been in a car accident.”

My only older brother, my mentor, my idol was 21 years old and going to school for woodworking in Janesville, Wisconsin, 90 miles away. Driving one night with a friend, as he proceeded to merge, he drove off the road to avoid another car speeding ahead into his blind spot. His car flipped, and he was thrown from the car.

He hit his head and was in a coma.

My parents left earlier that morning, at 2 a.m. after that 1:50 a.m. knock on the door from the police. That middle-of-the-night drive up to the University of Madison Hospital seemed like an eternity to them.

Bob died a week later, on March 21, 1981.

This story happens over 100 times a day! A brother, sister, mother, father, child. Your work matters literally every day, saving lives through education and awareness. 

Safety is personal to all of us, and this is my story.

Jim Chapleau
NSC Graphic Design Lead

He will Never be the Same Again

Safety is personal because of my husband. He suffered a workplace injury that resulted in nearly having his fingers on his left hand amputated. 

He was working in a mold-making plant and assisting another coworker in moving heavy plates of steel. One sheet fell on his hand at the second joint on four of his fingers, crushing them. He was flown to Milwaukee where specialists were able to reattach/repair his badly injured fingers. He was unable to work for several months and had to look to other career opportunities because he was no longer able to work in that industry with the lasting effects of the injury. The healing should have been measured in months, however a nerve condition called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) set in, leaving him with pain most days, even 25 years later. Since then, he favors his right hand, resulting in needing carpal tunnel surgery on top of the countless physical therapy appointments. He will never be the same.

I didn’t know him during this trying time, but I see the lasting effects he still has to overcome daily. He still experiences pain in these fingers and does not have full movement of them. He knows he will be in pain after working on tasks requiring a high level of finger dexterity, such as using tools -- annoying for someone that loves to work on mechanical things. 

I am truly grateful he was able to endure his ordeal without any issues with opioid dependence compounding an already tough situation. I think about the work we do, and wonder if the new safety techniques, use of machines we are exploring with Work to Zero or simply maintaining OSHA compliance would have spared him from his suffering. I know we make an impact and hopefully drastically reduce the number of these stories that will be told in the future.

Betsy Freed
Senior Manager, Brand and Creative Resources at NSC

A Precious Life Saved

As most new employees are required, I learned CPR after starting at NSC in 2013. Little did I know I’d use that training to save my daughter Ellie’s life just a few months later. 

Ellie was born with achondroplasia dwarfism, which is commonly associated with spinal stenosis and central sleep apnea, which can cause issues breathing. However, Ellie’s case of stenosis was more severe than anyone knew. 

Driving home one day, I noticed Ellie, who was 1 month old at the time, was very quiet in the back seat. I assumed she had fallen asleep. But, as I went to take her out of the car, I found her lifeless and turning blue.

Because I knew CPR, I jumped into action. Doctors told me if I hadn’t performed CPR as quickly has I had, Ellie could have experienced brain damage or died. Ellie had surgery immediately after to correct her stenosis, and today she is a happy and healthy 8-year-old.

Debbie Meyer
Director of Publishing at NSC

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