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April 24, 2023

Shaved Heads Celebrate Lineworker's Sick Nephew

Cory Gates, a line crew supervisor in Lancaster who has been with AEP Ohio for 16 years, said he isn’t a very emotional person. But he nearly broke down

Gates and his nephew, Cooper

in tears when he was surprised by the kindness of his fellow lineworkers.

“They nearly got me,” Gates said. “I had to step back for a minute to gather myself.”

The reason for Gates’s unexpected reaction is because it’s been an emotional time for his family. Around Christmas his 10-year-old nephew, Cooper, was tackled while playing football and felt a strange pain in his stomach. Weeks later the pain had not gone away.

On March 1, doctors shared the diagnosis: rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS). RMS is a rare type of cancer (more common in children) in which a tumor develops in the body’s soft tissues, usually the muscles. Cooper has stage three RMS. As part of his treatment, he is undergoing 41 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

Cooper’s family and local community have rallied around him. When his hair started falling out as a side effect of the treatment, many of them – his brothers, cousins, parents, soccer team – all shaved their heads in solidarity. They even threw a head-shaving party to celebrate the occasion.

Gates provided regular updates to his co-workers about Cooper’s health. They also knew about Gates’ intention to shave his own head, so they concocted a plan to show their support.

In early March, severe storms battered AEP Ohio’s service territory. Gates came to work one morning tired from working long hours and preoccupied by all the repairs that were ahead of him that day. He didn’t notice that all the lineworkers around him had come into the service center wearing hoods.

“I wasn’t really paying any attention. I was worried about the storm,” Gates said.

The team was fully gathered. One by one they all began removing their hoods to reveal their shaved heads. Gates was taken aback, and beset with emotion.

“It had been weeks of doctors’ appointments and treatments and medical updates and I hadn’t really had time to process it yet,” Gates said. “At that moment it just hit me all at once.”

A little over a month later, Gates has had more time to reflect on the unexpected support of his fellow lineworkers.

“In my opinion, you couldn’t ask for a better shop. It’s just a great place to work,” he said. “It’s like family. We go out of our way to look out for each other. What they did shows the compassion, and the friendship and the brotherhood that we have. I never asked them once to do it. It’s amazing that they did.”

As for Cooper, six weeks into his treatment he’s “doing amazing – acting just like a normal kid,” Gates said. Anyone wanting to follow Cooper’s progress can request access to the family’s Cooper Cancer Support Group private Facebook page.

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