AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than two years after getting carbon monoxide poisoning on the job, two Austin Police officers describe their long recovery process. While one is set to return to regular work, the other is at risk of having to medically retire.
Sgt. Zach LaHood says he’ll get to return to full duty next month.
He was on medical leave for more than a year-and-a-half before he returned to limited duty, doing desk work in November 2018.
Patrol Officer Ryan Hancock still isn’t back. He says he got carbon monoxide poisoning the day he went back to work from parental leave. He had a newborn son who was just a month old at the time.
“It’s been a nightmare. It’s been the biggest challenge,” said Ryan’s wife, Jessica Hancock.
Jessica says in July 2017, Ryan came home from his first day back at work extremely sick — not knowing why. She says she urged him not to go to work the next day, but he pushed himself to show up.
“When he got to work, his other officers could tell that he was not feeling well, and then when he saw his car had been pulled, they kind of all put two and two together and asked him to go to an EMS outpost, and that’s what he did,” she recalled. “And that’s where they drew his blood and saw that he had carbon monoxide and started giving him oxygen there, and transported him to a hospital.”
Ryan says following that day, he made more than 10 trips to the emergency room, was in the ICU for a while and checked into a rehab facility. However, he says the worst part of it all was missing out on raising his newborn.
“He couldn’t hold him; he couldn’t feed him,” Jessica said.
APD pulled nearly 400 Ford Explorers from its fleet in July 2017, and it took almost a year for them to be reinstated after getting fixed and fitted with new carbon monoxide detectors.
State law allowed Ryan a year off work with pay. Then, he says Police Chief Brian Manley got approval from the Austin City Council to allow, first, a year of paid leave extension, then an additional six months.
“And then this last time around, we said another six months because he’s still not at a place where he can get back to work even part-time yet, and Chief Manley denied that request. He didn’t even send it off to city council to let them approve or deny,” Jessica said, adding, “We’ve not talked to him. He sent some other people to come share that news.”
KXAN reached out to APD asking about Hancock’s case but hadn’t received a response as of Thursday afternoon. This story will be updated when we do.
The Hancocks say if Ryan has to medically retire due to the illness he sustained on the job, they worry about the finances of raising a family.
“I mean, he could have not made it through that first night. So, looking back, there were miracles. Lots of little miracles along the way,” Jessica said. “We know that God was with him, and there’s a plan for all of this, but it’s hard for us to see.”
City documents show Hancock’s leave ends on Tuesday, Jan. 21. He says he’ll have to either medically retire at that point or try to buy some more time by using the paid time off he has left.
However, he says he hopes the department will give him more time to recover because he feels he’s showing progress. He says he faced a major setback from an adverse reaction to medication given to him while in rehab. Because of it, he says he had to hold off on therapy for the carbon monoxide poisoning for a while. He says because of that, his case shouldn’t be compared to LaHood’s, with LaHood getting back to work sooner.
Both LaHood and Hancock have sued Ford over the carbon monoxide poisoning. The lawsuit was filed in July 2017, and on Thursday the attorney on the case, Brian Chase, updated KXAN on its status, “There have been major developments in the case with regard to how and why this defect came to be and it is a classic profit over safety story. Our nations [sic] police force has been unnecessarily placed at serious risk to carbon monoxide poisoning due to Ford’s greed.” Chase said he couldn’t comment more specifically on the case because there is a protective order in place. KXAN has reached out to Ford for comment and will update this story when it replies.