November 15, 2006, was supposed to be like any other day for Joseph Donnelly – a marine scientist at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus. He went to work that morning expecting to see his wife and two children later that afternoon, but a terrible accident changed Donnelly’s life forever.
This athletic father of two and devoted husband has a passion for his work as a research associate in the Department of Marine Science. With a background in wood working, he often helped in the department’s machine shop building research equipment. It was working on a metal lathe in the shop that changed his future.
In an instant, Donnelly was caught by the machine and his arms were severely injured. Three co-workers came to his rescue; Jim Mulhollan, Randy Maxson and Will Slee, stopped the machine and called 911. EMS immediately drove him to Bayfront’s trauma center where the surgeons initially gave him a grim prognosis. If he survived, it might be necessary to perform a bilateral amputation—but the first step was to save his life.
For Donnelly, the next week was a blur. He went through three major surgeries and fought for his arms, and most importantly, for his life. The expertise and determination of Bayfront’s physicians, plastic surgeon Dr. Peter Sarkos, orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Clinton Davis, and infection control specialist Dr. Mingquan Suksanong not only saved his life, but both his arms as well.
“These physicians gave me my life back,” said Donnelly. He was set on the road to recovery. It hasn’t been an easy road. The pain has been difficult for Donnelly, but he made a decision to look to the future.
“The Bayfront nurses are special people,” said Donnelly. “They always knew the right words to say and things to do. One night I was in excruciating pain and the nurses stayed by my side until I fell asleep, doing everything they could to make me more comfortable.”
After only two weeks, Donnelly had made enough progress to move to the inpatient rehab unit under the care of physiatrist Marc Reiskind, M.D., and Bayfront’s therapy team. On this unit he bonded with other patients, and they inspired him to use his arms. The inspiration and determination worked. He went home on December 15, only a month after that fateful day.
Six months after the accident, Donnelly is getting his life back. His hands are in splints, but they are both still there, still working and growing stronger. He attends physical therapy three times a week and works out at the gym to regain muscle tone, flexibility and strength. In the afternoon he spends time with his children – attending their sporting events and picking them up from school. He hopes to continue his research work again soon.
“It was a very sobering experience, having something like this happen to you,” said Donnelly. “You have two options; you can either give up and stay in bed all day or try to get your life back. The doctors and nurses at Bayfront made the second option my reality.”
In the months ahead he will undergo a few additional surgeries at Bayfront to gain even more use of his fingers and hands.
“I know that my life will never be exactly the way it was,” said Donnelly. “There will always be challenges to face. But with Bayfront’s great clinical care and my sheer determination, I will overcome them and forever remember those who made this recovery possible.”