Bo Hood is taking control of his own life – and helping others.
An electrical engineer for Duke Energy based in Plainfield, Ind., Hood is using his experiences with a traumatic brain injury to advocate for employees with disabilities.
At 12 years old, parts of his memory began to disappear.
And while a student at Murray State University in Kentucky, he quit when he forgot he was in school. The following years were a blur as he jumped between jobs and was confused about his place and purpose. But at 21, he moved back to Mississippi, where hope finally came into focus.
Hood signed on to an electrical apprenticeship and excelled. For the first time in his life, he stayed put and rose through the ranks, eventually graduating and running projects. But – like every other time before – life threw him a curveball that shattered his success.
At 25, while driving to work, Hood’s small truck was crushed between two tractor trailers. He refused medical treatment but later sought help for a neck injury that was only apparent after the adrenaline subsided. Instead of resting, he returned to work where – within days – familiar symptoms like forgetfulness and confusion set in, causing him to mismeasure wire, ruining a project and costing his company thousands of dollars.
While waiting for results of a CT scan, he passed out on the floor while calling 911.
The scan revealed a brain tumor the size of his fist, pushing his brain into his skull. He unknowingly had seizures for years. The doctor told him he only had a few days to live, and a risky surgery to remove the mass was his only option.
“The doctor told my parents I likely wouldn’t live through the surgery, and if I did, I would be in a vegetative state,” Hood said. “But it was my only shot, so I did it.”
The tumor – the source of every strange symptom he had experienced throughout his life – was safely removed, but Hood suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during surgery and woke up blind and paralyzed. Key motor functions were destroyed. Over the next several months, he developed hydrocephalus, and the tumor partially grew back, leading doctors to perform a second surgery, and eventually a third and fourth.
The months that followed were the hardest of his life. The TBI affected his vision, hearing and parts of his brain that control memory, spatial systems and abstract thought. He lost his job, apartment, even some friends, and moved back in with family in Kentucky.
Hood said all he could see was darkness. He felt no hope.
Still, Hood managed to get to a gym several times a week. It was there, amid his workouts, he met a pastor. They started working out together, and Hood said the pastor gave him a new perspective, turning his focus toward a successful future that only he was capable of building.
“It saved me,” Hood said. “And it drove me. I got back on my own two feet, learned to walk again, was eventually able to see, went back to college at West Kentucky Tech Community College, and eventually went on to finish my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Kentucky.”
Hood achieved a 3.7 GPA and was selected to be the commencement speaker at his graduation. He paid off his medical bills and college debt. He has worked for General Electric, Ingersoll Rand, Marathon Oil and, now, Duke Energy as a senior distribution grid engineer.
“The company didn’t care about my disability,” Hood said. “They knew I could do the job. I do have some struggles I deal with, but you don’t have to deal with it, I do.”
Some of that struggle includes difficulty seeing in his peripheral vision. His left arm and leg don’t function like they used to. But that doesn’t stop him from doing his job, coming into the Plainfield office and visiting the field. He said he’s learned what he needs to do to be successful – like taking a lot of notes, even recordings, and storing them for reference. He also developed guides and flowcharts to help him navigate systems and devices.
To help others, he’s launching the company’s Midwest chapter of disABILITY Outreach & Inclusion Team (DO-IT!), an employee resource group (ERG) committed to the education and advocacy of disabilities in the workplace. He wants to create a nurturing, inclusive environment that encourages employees with disabilities to feel they can be their authentic selves at work.
Duke Energy’s disABILITY Outreach & Inclusion Team (DO-IT!) employee resource group has chapters in Charlotte, Florida and Indiana. It’s a support network to increase disability education and awareness in the workplace. Learn more about Duke Energy’s employee resource groups.
“Coming out and saying this is very difficult for me in a way, but I want to be an advocate for employees with disabilities here in Indiana,” Hood said. “I’ve had to hide who I am for so long because of what people might think of me. We’re just people. We’re just like you, and we’re just as capable, but I would like that close parking spot because I can’t walk that well, but that doesn’t mean you need to treat me any differently.”
Hood also wants to remind people that not all disabilities are obvious. He encourages taking time to learn about your teammates and being willing to extend grace and understanding. You never know what someone might be dealing with.
Now, he sees his tough times as just a blip in his life. He’s married with two daughters and a son, who he said are his purpose, and drive him to always do the best he can, take hold of every opportunity and encourage others.
“I was blind, paraplegic and lost everything,” Hood said. “But don’t feel sorry for me. Because I live in a beautiful house, don’t struggle financially, and am surrounded by the family I never thought I’d wind up with. I always pushed for it. Let the tough times give you purpose. My purpose was to reach these goals, and I did it.”