Injured EB worker, recovering at home, hopes to return to work one day

Waterford — When 22-year-old Tanessa Pabon awoke from a three-day coma in the intensive care unit, after being critically injured on the job at Electric Boat in May, one of the first things she communicated was that she wanted to call work to say she wasn't going to be in.

Pabon, a painter, said she doesn't remember falling 25 to 30 feet while power-washing in a confined space in EB's Groton shipyard on May 7. The fall happened early in her 3:30 to 11:30 p.m. shift.

"I just remember washing and then I woke up at the hospital," Pabon said during an interview Friday at her home in Waterford, where she's continuing to recover after spending 18 days in several hospitals, including one that specializes in long-term rehabilitation. She's been home for about three weeks.

When she awoke from the coma in the ICU at Yale New Haven Hospital, Pabon couldn't speak because she was still intubated, so she motioned with her hands the shape of a telephone.

"Oh, you want to call somebody. Who do you want to call?" her mother, Samantha Korenek, asked her.

"We were listing all these names and finally, I'd said all these different names, and then I said 'Work?'" Korenek said.

Pabon nodded.

'I really enjoyed my job'

Pabon, who grew up in Colchester, had worked as a painter at EB for five months at the time of the accident. She has credited a co-worker, who'd worked at EB for less time than she had, with saving her life. He and Pabon had never really interacted before.

The family was told the co-worker carried Pabon up a 25-foot ladder screaming for help.

"He was worried that he was going to drop her," her mother said.

Pabon and her mother said they plan to meet with the co-worker soon so that they can thank him in person.

Pabon, who faces a long recovery, wears braces around her neck and her stomach. She frequently gets nauseous, feels dizzy, and gets "shooting" head pain. She spends much of her days sleeping. She has pain in her ankles, and a spot on one of her legs is "entirely numb."

When she fell, she landed face-down in fluid, some of which she ingested. Her doctors, through her lawyer, have been trying to ascertain what it was so they could treat her properly and assess any potential long-term complications. She's had trouble breathing, but her lung function is improving. The left side of her body is weaker than her right, so she walks "wobbly," she said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Hartford office started investigating a day after Pabon fell, and that investigation is ongoing. OSHA has six months from the time of opening an investigation to issue a citation. However, not all investigations result in citations. EB has declined to comment and initiated its own investigation.

Pabon's lawyer has submitted state and federal worker's compensation claims on her behalf, both of which are pending. Next week, she starts aquatic therapy.

Despite her injuries, Pabon said she eventually wants to go back to work at EB, but knows it's unlikely she'd be able to do the same job.

"I really enjoyed my job," she said. "I didn't do the same thing every day, which was really cool. I got to go in and learn different things, learn how to use tools, work in different parts of the boat, learn about different parts of the boat."

She said she also really enjoyed her co-workers, many of whom have reached out to her in the days and weeks since the accident.

"It was really nice to hear a lot of people cared," she said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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