HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A 24-year state prison guard who lost both legs because of work-related medical problems has waged a five-year battle to get workers compensation benefits and was shocked when prison officials told him to return to a new job last month.
Patrick Hamlow, 54, uses a wheelchair to get around his Kalihi apartment because he lost both legs.
It all started five years ago this summer at Halawa Prison when the veteran guard had to walk through a prison unit flooded with raw sewage to turn off the sewer line. He said inmates had purposely clogged toilets in the special holding unit where he was temporarily assigned to sergeant duty that day so he went in through the sewage spill to shut off the sewer lines near several prison cells.
"I didn't know it but I had a small blister on my foot because I was wearing brand-new boots and turn around, I got the contamination into my system," Hamlow said.
He ended up with a triple staph infection in his left leg.
"It just progressed, even though I was taking care of it, soaking it and everything, it still got into my system and it also developed into MRSA, flesh-eating bacteria," Hamlow said.
Doctors had to amputate his left leg below the knee and later, in a second operation, they amputated more of his leg above his knee because the infection kept spreading.
He went back to work at Halawa prison for nearly a year, screening and sorting mail in the mail room.
But then the MRSA infection took hold in his right leg, which was also amputated.
"It's like every time I get closer, I have to go back five steps," Hamlow said.
Hamlow showed Hawaii News Now the paperwork of his four-year battle for workers comp benefits that ended in 2013 with a state labor appeals board ruling in his favor. But it's not over.
"I was shocked," Hamlow said.
Early in July, he received a letter from the Department of Public Safety ordering him to return to work as a security guard at the department's headquarters building on Ala Moana Boulevard.
"What am I supposed to do? I can't walk," Hamlow said. "That's going to be kind of hard for me to make security checks in there on a scooter or not being able to walk or on a wheelchair."
He said the department dropped that return-to-work order last week as negotiations continue on a larger workers comp settlement.
But Hamlow said the state's Employees Retirement System has ruled he's only eligible for regular retirement and not a medical retirement, paying him just $600 a month or 20 percent of the approximately $3,000 he'd earn for medical retirement.
"I'm missing both my legs, and I can't even get medical disability. That what keeps really bothering me and it bothers my wife, too," Hamlow said.
His wife is a 28-year state prisons employee who works as a dental assistant at the Women's Correctional Facility in Kailua.
State prisons and human resources officials said they cannot comment on specific personnel cases.
Hamlow says he's on temporary disability insurance, paying him about 2/3 of his salary, until his attorney and state officials reach a final worker's compensation settlement.
"I'd like to see this finally come to an end. And it's time for me to move on and for us to put this behind us," Hamlow said.