- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

ASHFORD, Ala. (AP) - Candace Carnahan found a purpose after losing a leg in an industrial mishap in 1999.

“Something that could have been negative turned out to be a life changing situation that’s given me the opportunity to come in contact with lots of different people and different places,” she said.

That said, it’s a situation that she’d rather not have others experience. That’s why for almost 16 years, Carnahan has traveled the world talking to workers and students about workplace safety and how they can avoid similar incidents.

On Wednesday, Carnahan visited the Houston County Career and Technical Center in Ashford to tell her story to students. Her schedule includes multiple stops in the state through August sponsored by Southern Nuclear Co.

Carnahan was a 21-year-old university student in Canada working a summer job at a paper mill when she lost her leg. Carnahan was using a shortcut over a conveyor system frequently used by employees when her foot became caught in the conveyor belt. The device had no emergency stop system, but another employee was nearby and stopped the conveyor, saving Carnahan’s life. Carnahan suffered severe injuries to her left leg as a result of the incident, and the leg was amputated below the knee.

Carnahan told students about her recovery and her life with a prosthetic leg. She said she largely avoided the feelings of frustration and self-pity that can often come with circumstances like hers, but did break down after a disastrous trip to Mexico a few months after the amputation.

Carnahan was on a hiking trip and was having difficulty with her prosthetic leg. She reached a vending stand hoping for a drink, but it appeared no one was there. Carnahan had a meltdown, but quickly snapped back after finally seeing the owner of the stand, a man who had no legs who used a skateboard to get around.

“Here was this guy who didn’t have any legs and used a skateboard to get to work so he could support his family,” she said. “What did I have to complain about with my $20,000 prosthetic leg?”

Carnahan’s speech often addressed issues of personal safety. She told students that being aware of workplace safety issues is important as they transition from school to careers.

“You have a role to play in your own health and safety,” Carnahan said.

Carnahan said students need to practice situational awareness in their daily lives and ensure that they always know where and what they’re doing. She also advised students to decline to perform tasks that they feel are unsafe.

“I’m really happy to be alive to tell you my story,” she said. “A lot of people are not so lucky.”

Gabe Chavis, 18, said Carnahan’s story made lessons he’s learning in a pre-engineering class more relevant.

“We designed conveyor systems and had to build emergency stops and now I have a better understanding of why,” he said.

Keyshauna McCree, 18, said Carnahan’s story was inspiring.

“I wouldn’t have had her confidence,” she said.

Neecie Tarrant, a spokesperson for Farley Nuclear Plant, said the plant’s corporate parent, Southern Nuclear, sponsored Carnahan’s visit to local schools to help foster a greater culture of workplace safety.

“Safety is a top priority at Southern Nuclear and Plant Farley, so we’re excited that she could come in and deliver such a dynamic message,” she said.

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