Andrew Regains His Confidence With a New Career
“There are people out there who want to help including doctors, non-profits, and government agencies like VR. You don’t have to do it alone.”-Andrew
Andrew had been a wild land firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service when his life changed forever on New Year’s Eve in 2016. As a result of a violent attack that evening, he sustained a brain injury that would take him years to recover from and that left him with apparent and hidden disabilities.
“I woke up in the hospital five days later not remembering my name,” Andrew said. “I had to wear flip flops for a year because I had to relearn how to tie my shoes.” The attack had given Andrew severe traumatic brain injury. Thus began the journey of an entirely new life for Andrew where he would spend every minute of every day trying to remember who he was, what happened to him, and relearn life skills.
So far, Andrew has visited more than 70 medical professionals in order to relearn everything from tying his shoes to eating cereal. With the help of his healthcare providers, family, and friends, Andrew worked hard to get the right medications and learn how to live with his disabilities.
When he felt ready to reenter the workforce, he started working with the Oregon Department of Human Services Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program. Andrew was able to do personal and professional development with the help of his VR counselor, Jeff Lichtenberg.
They worked together to figure out what Andrew liked and could do, created a development plan, and talked through what he would need from a job that would work well with his disabilities.
Andrew completed a functional capacity assessment with the help of his physician, Dr. Fitzimons. Jeff and Andrew also talked with a number of community partners at WorkSource Oregon, such as business and employment specialists and a college and career success coach who works closely with Central Oregon Community College.
Through this process, Jeff and Andrew decided he could operate equipment fairly well with his disability, since it was hands-on, but not too physically demanding, for his eye and brain trauma. VR funded Andrew’s training at West Coast Training to become a crane operator.
In August 2020, Mission Ridge Ski resort hired Andrew for his first job since his accident to run crane and equipment operations. Andrew later joined Hamilton Construction in Eugene (where he currently works) as a full-time crane operator for bridge construction.
VR’s employment assistance helped Andrew build back the self-confidence he had lost since the incident. “I feel like I’m creating a new version of myself,” Andrew said. “VR was really patient, helping me get back on my feet. They (VR) worked with me at my pace, kept reaching out to me, and re-explaining things.” Jeff and other VR staff worked with Andrew to figure out what was best for him, long term.
When asked if he has any words of advice for others in similar situations, Andrew said, “It’s ok to ask for help. There are people out there who want to help including doctors, non-profits, and government agencies like VR. You don’t have to do it alone.”