Walking Tall: West Nile-Stricken Sergeant Goes Home

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Nearly six months ago, Donnie Manry made headlines, not only for contracting the West Nile Virus and becoming paralyzed from the waist down, but also for his determination in the face of adversity.

Friday, the Bryan Police officer finally went home from the St. Joseph Rehabilitation Center.

In half-a-year, Room 101 at the center has become the place hope comes for Donnie Manry. His room was filled to the brim with cards, gifts and well-wishers, who made daily visits to see him.

"There's some awesome people here," Manry said. "This community has really come behind me. That's what's kept me going."

Endless hours of therapy since a small mosquito bite made the biggest of life changes has pushed the tough-but-fair sergeant to his limit and beyond, both physically and mentally.

"I think it's given me a lot of patience," he said. "I think it's given all of us a lot of patience. [You're a] Type A personality, used to jumping in there and taking control, and all of a sudden, you're totally out of control. So it's taught me patience."

While the sergeant is quick to give thanks to his supporters and to the staff at the Rehab Center, his family is also at the forefront of his mind.

"My wife and these two girls and my son, they've really stood behind us and gone through a lot," Sgt. Manry said.

"Now, I definitely appreciate what I have and realize what I have," his wife, Stephanie, added. "I have a great family. I wish it didn't take this to learn that, but maybe that's the lesson that we've learned is that we do have a great family."

It will still likely take months more of regular therapy to get Manry back to some semblance of normalcy. In fact, on Monday, he'll be back at the rehab center doing even more work. But as he left after a months-long stay, there were poignant well-wishes that could only be forged from triumph through tragedy.

"This is an experience that while I wouldn't wish it upon anybody else," Donnie said, "and while I certainly wouldn't want to go through it again, it's also an experience that I would not trade. I truly wouldn't."

The sergeant's first steps out of the center were with a heavy knee brace on one leg and a walker, but they were steps nonetheless, and ones that were taken towards the simplest, but long-overdue acts.

"To be able to go home and sit on the couch, tuck them in bed again and sit on the couch with my wife and be at home, that's all I'm looking forward to," Donnie said. "Past that, we'll take it a day at a time, but right now, that's all I want is to get home and be with them."

So how does Manry's family describe him after his West Nile ordeal?

"Amazing personality," said his daughter, Chelsea, sitting next to her sister, Haley. "Strong."

And that's pretty much what his rehab family would tell you, too.

"Since he's been here, we've grown to love him," said Tina Ahre, a nurse at the center. "He's a very sweet man. When he first came in, he couldn't do a whole lot, and we've seen him really go a long way."

"He is the first patient here at the Rehab Center that has had West Nile Virus," said Julie Cernel, the lead physical therapist at St. Joseph Rehab, "so we didn't know what the ultimate result would be."

But since August, Manry has literally made great strides in overcoming paralysis from the waist down. Hours upon hours, days upon days, he and the St. Joseph staff worked in therapy rooms and swimming pools, all to turn the wiggle of a toe into mobility.

"Some people would probably fuss about it, but whatever we need to do, if it gets me walking again, keep it coming," Manry said. "The staff here is just outstanding, whether it's nursing or therapy or physicians. It's outstanding. They're wonderful, wonderful people."

"Just anything you asked, he would do," said Ahre. "He always had a smile, always if you needed to talk, he was always there. He was a wonderful person."

So wonderful that his last minutes before walking out of St. Joseph were spent with those people responsible with him walking period.

"It's always exciting when a patient is able to walk out the door when they come in initially flat on their back with no strength in their legs," said Cernel, "so for him to be able to make that incredible progress is just very satisfying to me, as it was to him."

Manry will be back regularly for therapy, so this certainly isn't goodbye.

"We're not over with this by a long shot, but this is a step," he said. "It's a step."

St. Joseph officials say Donnie Manry will be a benchmark for future treatment of West Nile and other paralysis. As for his future with the police department, Manry hopes to return to work for the city at some point in the near future.