Put Your Safety First

I grew up in a small community, one of those places where everyone knows one another. My first memories involving my dad and I were weekends spent in an O&P lab at Carrie Tingley Hospital in Truth or Consequences, N.M. My sister and I would sometimes tag along when dad had work to do in the lab. We would make things out of plaster or watch dad fabricate or adjust an orthosis or prosthesis.

Dad never pushed us to take up a particular profession. So when I wound up in the O&P field in the mid-1980s, I don’t know who was more surprised. I think being in the field and becoming a certified practitioner like my dad became something that brought us closer through the years.

Throughout my career I was fortunate to be involved in most areas of the field, including the technical, practical, political and educational. I began as a registered technician and finished as a CPO, directing a technician program at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology. In those 20-plus years, I directed a small handful of offices and held ownership in two. Helping an individual who had never walked or had lost the ability to walk were some of the most fulfilling and inspiring moments of my life. That said, the moment when a student learned a new concept that would someday change another’s life also was a huge kick.

Sidelined by smoking

Keith Crownover

Keith Crownover

Then, out of nowhere, everything changed. After smoking for 25-plus years and exposure to various lab fumes and particles, I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — emphysema and bronchitis in the fall of 2007. I was required to resign from teaching in a lab, became disabled and retired from the orthotic and prosthetic field. Since then, I have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and have had a difficult time physically.

I do not blame anyone for my illness other than myself. After all, I chose to smoke. Beyond that, life happens.

Unfortunately, I did not use protective masks during most of my career, although my students were required to use them. When I was training and began in the field, safety equipment was not required or used and often did not exist in the facility. The consequences of opting out were not discussed. Although I had great mentors besides my father and learned so much from each of them, we simply did not realize the dangers or the necessity for protection early on. Even when safety issues finally became more acknowledged in the field, habits had already been established.

A setback is just a setup for a comeback

Although disabled, I still wanted to make a contribution to society. After I realized I would not return to O&P, I instead returned to school and earned a master’s degree in professional counseling. Today, I am involved in a number of opportunities for the future. I am currently engaged in a PhD program. I have taught here and there. I am building a coaching practice via electronic media, thus eliminating barriers to receiving support and help, especially those struggling with change, loss and addictions.

I have been smoke-free for 5 years and avoid any kind of harmful substances as well as medications for the immunity issues, and most days I continue to improve physically and emotionally. I am sincerely grateful to my lovely wife, six gorgeous daughters, several sons-in-law and many great leaders and friends who remain in the O&P field for their support. I consider my part in the O&P field as well as all the professional connections and good friends made over the years a huge blessing.

I would like to encourage schools, manufacturing and central fabrication facilities, as well as professionals and all those connected to our beloved field to require and implement each and every kind of safety precaution for yourselves and your colleagues. Break the habit of not taking the time for personal protection and push for state-of-the-art ventilation systems. Not only are you protecting yourselves and thus your families but also those who may secondarily be exposed.

Secondly, take care of your health. Quit engaging in activities that are physically destructive. Begin taking the time to watch your diet and exercise. Lastly, if you find yourself having to make a change or you suffer a difficult loss, all is not over. You are still valuable. Don’t give up. Consider what is most important to you and keep trying. — by Keith Crownover

Keith Crownover, MS, CCDC, CCMIII is a retired certified prosthetist/orthotist who is now a clinical life coach and counselor with the Center for Wholly Living LLC in Oklahoma City. For more information, visit the website at www.centerforwhollyliving.com.

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