OWEGO, NY (WIVT/WBGH) – Born and raised in Owego New York, Justin Donnelly never had the itch to join the military until the tragic events on 9/11.
With hopes of having a career in the medical field, he joined the army as a medic.
Donnelly served two tours, the first in Baghdad, Iraq where he was featured on CNN for his efforts to save a baby suffering from a spinal birth defect.
His patrol was questioning a target related to the child and the mother plead for help.
Justin Donnelly says, “She just came and thrusted this baby in my face and showed me the back and didn’t have any familiarity with what it was. I was like, well, looks like it could be some kind of spinal tumor or whatever, but I took a picture of it.”
His CO had connections with the Atlanta Children’s Hospital, and before long, the child, known as Baby Noor was on a plane to receive treatment in the states. When Donnelly first interacted with Noor, he says she had already outlived the doctor’s life expectancy by several months. Treatment was successful, and she is still alive today.
Donnelly says, “I was still deployed when she came back to Iraq. So, we got to take her back to her family and make sure she was all squared away with what she needed and everything. If she can be stranded in a wheelchair in Baghdad and find a reason to smile, I mean, why can’t we?”
His second tour was in Kirkuk, in Northern Iraq. It was there that Donnelly received a Purple Heart for surviving a car bomb attack on their base camp.
He says the attacker drove into a gate with a car bomb and he took shrapnel to his legs, back, and head.
Donnelly says, “Once I realized that I wasn’t losing blood fast enough to lose consciousness or anything like that, I’d be okay, I just dressed my wounds and continued helping with everybody else that needed it. I tell people now, it might have been the best thing that ever happened to me because I was retired at the age of 24, I still got all my parts, I can still get around relatively easily. I mean, I do have pain, but who doesn’t?”
Donnelly was sent to Walter Reed Hospital where he had to relearn how to move since the shrapnel severed the nerves to his foot in his left leg.
Through the support of his wife and kids, he recovered, and moved back to Owego, but the transition wasn’t easy.
Donnelly says, “It took me forever just to be able to walk past a KIA. Cause that’s what the truck was that blew us up was a little cab over KIA. So, that was the last thing I saw was that little KIA of all things.”
Even through everything he endured, Donnelly says that it shaped him into the man he is today.
Donnelly says, “I wouldn’t change anything. I’d try to do everything the same. Maybe run a little faster the day that I got blown up, but at the same time, there wasn’t much space to run to.”