Back on the job

Danette Dooley
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City worker fights back after losing seven fingers and both legs below the knees to H1N1

Despite losing both legs below the knee and seven fingers as a result of H1N1 complications, Des McDonald is back on the job with the City of St. John's.

Des McDonald says he’s glad he was in good shape when he contracted H1N1 last November. If not, he said, he would have lost his life rather than seven of his fingers and both legs below the knee.

Remarkably, McDonald has not only recovered, but is back on the job as a first class operator with the City of St. John’s.

The 40-year-old father of three-year-old Sara operates a range of heavy equipment from a loader to a plow.

McDonald said the only adjustment to the equipment is an extra step closer to the ground that was added to the loader.

He can do everything he always did — just in a different way, he said.

He’s learned to write with his left hand.

A portable knob-like spinner for the steering wheel of the heavy equipment makes it easy for him to turn the wheel with the palm of his left hand.

McDonald was admitted to the Health Sciences Centre Nov. 18, 2009 after having flu-like symptoms for about a week.

He was put on a ventilator and remained in an induced coma for more than three weeks.

Doctors weren’t optimistic he’d live.

His health got much worse before it got better. He came down with pneumonia and a blood infection.

His kidneys failed. He ended up on dialysis. He remained in the hospital’s intensive care unit until Christmas Eve.

He needed to get out of the unit and onto a floor, he said.

He needed to see and hug Sara.

The family celebrated Christmas Day in McDonald’s hospital room.

He was transferred from the Health Sciences Centre to the Miller Centre for rehabilitation in January.

“I was home by March. I still had my legs and special boots so I could walk.”

In April doctors told McDonald they had to amputate his legs below the knee. His reaction — do it and get it over with.

He spent the early part of the summer going about his home and yard in a wheelchair.

In July he got his artificial limbs.

It didn’t take him long to get back on his feet again.

By summer’s end he was anxious to return to work.

After Labour Day weekend he did just that, starting off slowly at four hours a day cutting grass on a ride-on mower in a local city park.

Paul Mackey, the city’s director of public works said safety is No. 1 both for the public and the employee when helping staff return to work.

McDonald has proven to himself, the city and the people who retested him for his class three license to operate tandem trucks that he can do all aspects of his job.

He’s now working full-time in the position he held prior to his illness, thanks to his determination and the city’s early and safe return to work program.

McDonald’s work ethic and attitude was great right from the start, Mackey said.

“He was a real inspiration to us the first day he came to us saying he wanted to return to work ... it makes the program worthwhile,” Mackey said.

McDonald lives in the Goulds with his wife Vicki Madden and their daughter.

He’s grateful to neighbours, family and friends who held numerous fundraisers for him over the past year.

The moral and financial support has helped tremendously in his recovery, he said, and in helping his wife get through the tough times.

“She was trying to juggle everything, the house, the bills, taking care of Sara but so many people were here for her.”

McDonald is also grateful to the city staff and his co-workers who also supported him financially and helped him back on the job.

“I owe the city a lot. They went above and beyond for me ... I had a lot of bad luck on the first of it. But it’s all positive now.”

Organizations: Health Sciences Centre, Miller Centre

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Recent comments

  • J
    December 21, 2010 - 10:39

    This guy is now one of my heroes. What an inspiring story.

  • chris
    December 21, 2010 - 08:25

    Glad to see things worked out for him. He is a real inspiration ,considering everything he has been through, Merry Xmas to him and his family. I hope we never have to deal with a influenza like this anymore .

  • Becky
    December 21, 2010 - 07:27

    Such a nice story :) Best of luck with everything, you're a true inspiration.

  • B
    December 21, 2010 - 07:19

    Awesome, good to hear man.