WILLOW SPRING - A routine day on the job turned into a nightmare for Dan Hackney.
As an operations supervisor for Fuquay-Varinas sewage treatment plant, Hackney was working 15 feet underground Nov. 15 to install a piece of equipment.
Hackney, who turned 45 on Monday, accidentally stepped into a sewage grinder called the Muffin Monster. The machine started to suck in the leg of his pants when a supervisor grabbed Hackney to keep him from getting pulled in.
But it was too late Hackney was stuck, and injured.
The switch to turn off the machine was above ground. Luckily, the Muffin Monsters motor quit running, and in those precious moments another worker above heard the commotion and rushed to turn off the equipment.
I just lost it, said Hackney, who lives in the Willow Spring community. But when that machine seized I just got this sense of calm. I knew it was the grace of God, and I was going to make it. ... All I could think about was my wife, my kids and my church. There were all these memories flashing through my mind.
Workers spent two hours dismantling the machinery. Hackney was freed, but he underwent five surgeries as doctors removed his right foot.
The community has rallied around Hackney and his wife and two sons . Since the accident, fellow members of Church Alive, coworkers, neighbors and Fuquay-Varina residents have stepped forward with financial donations, prayers and inspirational messages.
Sandwich shop Jersey Mikes in Fuquay-Varina gave the Hackney family $1,500 to help them make it through Christmas. The eatery isdonating 15 percent of all sales through Jan. 19 to help the family pay bills and medical expenses as Hackney recovers.
He is a hardworking man who is devoted to his family, said manager Stuart Boyd.Power of prayer
The day of the accident, coworkers Bobby Mills and James Jordan got Hackney out of the machines grip.
These guys , Hackney began, and then words escaped him for a moment. James sat in the catchers position for two hours holding me. I said, Dont leave me. He said, Im not.
At one point during the ordeal, the crew prayed.
I said, Bobby, look at me, Hackney recalled. If there is anyone who can take this apart, its you. Pray for me. Pray for me aloud.
The crane Hackney had ordered to help install the equipment eventually lifted him out of the ground.
He spent about two weeks at WakeMed, and Hackney posted updates on his Facebook page to highlight the ups and downs of his recovery.
In a Dec. 28 post, Hackney wrote that he made it through Christmas.
Just a little sad. Santa didnt bring me my foot back, he wrote.
Despite his best attempts to remain optimistic, Hackney said the hardest part is learning to live without his right foot.
Its hard knowing that for 44 years something I had is no longer there, he said.
Hackneys 13-year-old son, Tyler, knows just what to say: When hes feeling down, I say, Look dad. I know you dont have a foot, but youre still my dad. I never fathomed this
Hackney was used to working 50 hours a week as the towns operations manager and part time as a contractor for Nash County schools wastewater system
Now Hackney spends his days shuttling between doctors appointments and managing the pain.
Coping is a mixture of humor, prayer and willpower, he said.
Its hard for Hackney to look at the bandaged stump where his foot used to be. But hes determined to get back to work.
Soon, Hackney expects to get fitted for a prosthesis. An outpouring of support has helped keep his spirits up, Hackney said. The town of Fuquay-Varina arranged for a U.S. Marine who underwent an amputation to visit Hackney.
There are two sayings that keep me going, Hackney said. My boss said, You may have lost a foot, but the best parts of you are still there. And the marine who visited told me, You have to adapt and overcome.
A church member even made a smoked turkey with all the fixings for the Hackneys Thanksgiving meal at WakeMed.
The donation from Jersey Mikes brought Hackney to tears.
I never fathomed this, he said. I knew that people would reach out from my church, but for people we dont even know to come forward, its just amazing.