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He may never win the Tour de France . . .

December 6, 2021

. . . but every pedal with his family reminds him just how far he’s come.

Matthew Donaldson was your typical bullet-proof 19-year-old on his best behavior behind the wheel of his truck because his mother was following him home. Uncharacteristically, he unfastened his seat belt and rolled up his window as he approached a four-way stop. Normally he would drive with his window down and his arm hanging over the side. Only later would he learn how that variation in his driving pattern had saved his life.

As Matthew waited, a 60,000-pound dump truck plowed through the 4-way stop and t-boned his truck on the driver’s side. The impact snapped Matthew’s neck immediately, breaking 10 vertebrae, 20 ribs, collar bone – virtually every bone on his left side. The dump truck pushed him 100 feet down the road. His lungs were also punctured and he was clinically dead for about eight minutes. Life Force airlifted him to Erlanger, where he remained in a coma nearly six weeks. He had a traumatic brain injury and suffered two strokes. A state trooper later told him if he had been wearing his seat belt, he would have been decapitated.

His parents insisted on Siskin Hospital and Matthew admitted completely helpless. He received therapy for two and a half months, but doesn’t remember anything about it except his physical therapist named Carlos. However, he made enough progress to begin a seven-year-long outpatient journey when he discharged.

By the time he began outpatient therapy, he was aware of his situation and his environment. What really struck and motivated him from the very beginning, though, was an incident that occurred on his very first day.

As Matthew was being wheeled into the Outpatient Pavilion, another patient, Jordan Thomas, was heading out as a 16-year-old double amputee. The sight of that younger boy who would never, to all appearances, have the use of his legs again, was a sobering thought to Matthew. Jordan’s situation so moved him that he vowed never to make any excuses in his own recovery. That day, he knew he had two choices: to make excuses and remain helpless, or to press on. As he has followed Jordan’s progress and all that he has been able to accomplish since his accident, Matthew continues to be inspired and to make the best of all his own opportunities to recover.

Matthew later went on to become an occupational therapy assistant and for the last ten years helped other patients recover after traumatic events. In an uncanny coincidence, his very first patient was actually in the same room Matthew occupied as a Siskin Hospital inpatient. He remembers how surreal it all felt – the room was the same, the bathroom was the same, he walked the same corridors, but he was a different person. Matthew never tires of sharing his recovery story, especially with patients who’ve had a car accident, because he knows it will encourage them.

Matthew was also motivated to regain the skills necessary to be all his young family needed him to be. Now he’s back to enjoying moments like bicycling with his favorite little sidekicks. He may not have a trophy on his mantle to mark his triumph, but every single day of living makes him feel like a champion.