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Port Orange Observer Friday, Apr. 13, 2018 11 months ago

Volusia firefighter looks back on journey to recovery after motorcycle accident

Thomas McDonough returned to his job with Volusia County Fire Rescue this month.
by: Nichole Osinski Community Editor

On Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, Thomas McDonough's life changed. 

The Volusia County firefighter had been out for a leisurely motorcycle ride in South Daytona when he collided with a truck leaving him unconscious. He does not remember being taken to Halifax Hospital's trauma unit or the two weeks that followed. 

When he finally woke up, a breathing tube in his neck, he did not even remember that he had been in a motorcycle wreck. His son had to tell him what had happened and had also brought photos of the motorcycled to help explain the situation. 

McDonough had suffered a broken femur, shattered tibia, a broken pelvis, internal bleeding, a lung contusion and a broken jaw. His lung area had to be drained of blood and his jaw was wired shut. 

At one point, doctors were not even sure if he would survive. In his 53 years, nothing like this had ever happened to the firefighter. 

"I knew I had a long road ahead of me to recover," McDonough said. "I had a goal to get better. I told them I wanted to come back to work as a firefighter."

McDonough describes himself as an active person who, aside from what he does as a firefighter, enjoys swimming and surfing. When he was younger and living in Flagler Beach, his brother worked as a volunteer firefighter in the late '70s and a lifeguard in the summer. McDonough followed and became a lifeguard with the Volusia County Beach Patrol at the age of 16.

He worked as a fulltime lifeguard until 1996 when he decided to transition to Volusia County Fire Rescue where he has been for almost 25 years. For McDonough, being a firefighter was a challenge and a way to help people. It was a rewarding career. 

So when McDonough was released from the hospital to begin treatment from his home in Port Orange, he set a goal to get better by the beginning of the following year. It was another challenge for him. 

"I wanted to come back to work and achieve that goal," McDonough said. 

What followed was an intense rehabilitation process where the normally active McDonough had to relearn how to use his muscles and, most importantly, had to learn how to walk again. 

McDonough said that even his orthopedic surgeon was unsure if his leg would heal properly. In January of 2018, McDonough was told that his leg was fine and he could finally put weight on it. It was at that moment McDonough really began his campaign to get better. Before then, it had been about rest. Now it was about becoming strong again.  

Day after day, McDonough would exercise, stretch and work with doctors to get back his mobility and build up his muscles. He even started taking calcium and protein supplements. 

At first, he thought after a few weeks of rehab he would be able to do the rest on his own. But very quickly he realized it would not be that easy. 

His son, also a Volusia County firefighter, motivated him to keep going. In addition to his family, there was also the encouragement from other first responders, the medical community and friends. 

"I didn't want to let all those people down," McDonough said. "They believed in me and I wanted to uphold that."

McDonough was also working toward a physical ability firefighter fitness test in March where he would have to perform a series of tasks in under nine minutes and 45 seconds in order to return to work. And that day quickly arrived. 

On Saturday, March 31, 220 days after his accident, McDonough completed his fitness test in five minutes and 32 seconds. He was back. 

The next day McDonough returned to the fire station and the job he loved. 

He is still working on complete healing and getting back to where he was, but he accomplished what he set out to do and is now planning for what is next. 

"I'm very close to retirement," McDonough said. "If I'm going retire I didn’t want to go out in a wheelchair. I wanted to go out standing up and come out of the job as I do every day."

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