Turning Adversity To Triumph

Tampa Bay Tribune—October 8, 2008

On July 31, 2007, the lives of Dan and Tuesday Fibkin of Westchase changed forever.

The 33-year-old parents of two young sons were suddenly forced to confront a new reality - a husband who lost the use of his hands and a wife who became his caregiver.

On that day, Dan Fibkin, a power line repairman for Progress Energy, was severely shocked while working on high-voltage power lines in Dunedin, following a lightning storm. Fibkin, who was in a bucket atop a power pole, was later told that 7,200 volts of electricity had passed through one hand and out the other and through his entire body. A fellow worker on the ground brought Fibkin down.

"I always feared he'd be too tired after work and be in a car accident," Tuesday Fibkin said. "I worried more about that than a power line accident."

Her husband said he remembers nothing about the accident - only the aftermath.

That aftermath has provided a study in human resilience, determination and the sheer will to succeed. It also has changed the dynamic of the couple, who said they have become closer than ever.

"We decided we wouldn't let this define us," Tuesday Fibkin said. "We made up our minds we would be fine, no matter what."

Their new journey has been wrought with challenges every step of the way. The early stages brought doubts about Fibkin's future and struggles with doctors who thought amputation of both hands was the best way to go.

Hospital care came first. Fibkin spent the first three weeks in intensive care. Initially, treatment consisted of close monitoring and flushing out his system with diuretics.

"I spent 10 weeks in the hospital," he said. "With electrical burns, the greatest risk is heart failure and kidney failure."

Fibkin also suffered extensive damage to arm muscles, tendons and nerves.

"Two of the three main nerves in both hands were gone," he said.

Doctors at Tampa General had to cut both arms to relieve the swelling. They then placed skin grafts over the cuts.

"They also took tissue from his thighs to transplant to his wrists to save his thumbs," his wife said.

The results of the procedures disappointed both the Fibkins and the medical team. Thus Fibkin was taken by air ambulance to New York.

At this facility, Fibkin was treated by a series of doctors, most recommending that both hands be amputated, an option the couple adamantly refused. One doctor saw some hope.

A plastic surgeon brought in Michelle Carlson, a hand surgeon from Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

"I saw a smart, motivated patient with a very supportive wife," Carlson said. "It's a lot of surgery to go through, and you need to have a strong support system."

At first, the simplest actions were impossible for him, including brushing his own teeth, combing his hair, getting dressed or taking a shower. The losses relating to the couple's two sons, ages 20 months and 5 years, were particularly painful. Tossing a ball to 5- year-old Harry was now impossible, as were other father-son sports played in the yard.

Harry, Fibkin said, was old enough to handle the change in his father, who was honest with the child from the beginning.

"He tries to help me as much as he can," Fibkin said. "He's often my hands."

His young son now typically turns the pages of a book while his father reads it to him.

In the past year, Fibkin has undergone eight surgeries, and some improvement has slowly begun. On the right hand he can move his thumb, middle and index fingers. The fingers on the left hand also are beginning to move slightly.

Fibkin makes monthly trips to see Carlson in New York. Although more surgeries are scheduled, the former lineman's future use of his hands remains undetermined.

"It's not cut and dry," Fibkin said. "The doctor is experimenting with new applications of old methods."

 Read the full story at TBO.com.

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