WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – He went to Puerto Rico to help, but left the island in a world of hurt.
Cameron Alley is back home in Polk County where he is recovering with family by his side after surviving a nearly 100-foot fall from a cable suspended from a helicopter.
Alley is a contracted lineman who had been working to restore power in the mountains in Puerto Rico.
It's help that comes with high risk.
"I would say 95 percent of the population has no clue what a lineman's job entails," Alley said. Alley has been a lineman on and off for 17 years.
He first traveled to Puerto Rico in October to help with power restoration efforts. He returned to the island on Jan. 1 following a brief trip home for Christmas.
It was about halfway through his workday on Jan. 11 when the unthinkable happened.
"I remember the helicopter went to pick me up and move me," Alley recalled, but then there was a struggle with the safety chain.
"At that time I was coming down really fast and I thought the helicopter was just losing altitude, but I started seeing the conductors pass me and that’s when I knew."
Alley was in a free fall.
"I told myself, 'This is it, I’m not going to make it,'" he said. "It all happened so fast."
Lying on the ground, he said he was too stunned to even feel pain yet, but he remembered he had been wearing a GoPro around his chest. He pressed record to capture the moments immediately after the fall as dozens of locals rushed to his aid.
"I just started talking to the camera," he said. "‘Hey, I fell from right there, I’m alive, I can’t believe it.’”
As Alley received medical attention, his wife received the call she always feared.
"They don't call you unless it's bad," Trista Alley said.
She remembers the agony that followed, initially not knowing how serious the situation was or what exactly had happened. But she welcomed the relief of having him back home just days later, right where he belonged.
"He needed his children, they needed to see their daddy," she said. "He's here. The alternative could’ve been worse.”
Alley suffered three broken ribs, two broken wrists, and shattered bones in both hands. Used to being mobile, he's now fighting to re-learn life and his new place in it.
"I believe that God has a greater purpose for me on Earth, I can’t believe any other reason why I should still be alive," he said.
"God gives us lefts and rights and right now he’s dealing me a different turn in life and he’s telling me I need to go in a different direction than what I was going and right now just day by day I’m trying to figure out what that direction is.”
Trista has taken time off from work to stay home and care for her husband, who will have to undergo at least three more surgeries and an entire year of physical therapy.
He's been told by doctors he might never regain the full use of his left hand.
"It’s tough," Trista said. "There’s not one day where we don’t have some type of roadblock."
But for a lineman who wears his love for the job on his sleeve — a tattoo of an electrical pole and a lineman covers his entire right arm — he said he wanted to share his story to ensure other linemen like him aren't forgotten.
"I have a lot of friends and brothers out there still doing it," he said. "They're still there working their butts off to get the power back, and I want people to know that what they're doing there is dangerous and there's still a lot of work to be done."
The Highline Heroes Foundation, which supports families of linemen nationwide, is collecting donations to help Cameron and his family. Donations can be made by contacting Tracey Moore.
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