WILMINGTON — On October 19th, 2014, Danielle Currier didn't know if she would survive from a horrible accident. Once she realized that she would survive, she didn't know if she would ever walk again.
Nearly five years after a 40-foot Ash Tree crushed her body, the 53-year-old was able to walk and complete a 5K in honor of a person — who along with many doctors — was one big reason why she was able to walk again.
This past weekend, Currier and a friend flew from Virginia to take part in the fifth (and final) annual Tony Alonardo Memorial Road Race held on Saturday morning at the Town Common. Alonardo, the husband to Donna and father to Sara and Michelle, was a well-known friend and hockey coach to many in town, who had the reputation of always helping others whenever in need.
After his passing in April of 2015, Tony's organs and tissues were donated to 48 different people across the country. One of them was Currier, who received Tony's ACL which helped to repair her shattered right knee.
Currier along with her friend Lynn, joined Donna and walked the 5K together, crossing the finish line in what was an emotional moment for both of them.
"It was an incredible experience," said Donna. "When I first met Danielle, I hugged her and it was obviously emotional. I can’t even find the words to explain it. There was a calmness I haven’t felt since Tony died. It was almost like I could feel him. It was all very surreal and as emotional as it was, it was very comforting. We had a connection."
What was supposed to be a celebration of her 48th birthday, Currier, who grew up in Duxbury, was in Bedford, New Hampshire, with her father when her entire life changed.
"I was cutting down trees with my dad and one fell on me and crushed me," she said. "It crushed my left rib cage as my ribs were shattered, it destroyed my right knee, my ACL, MCL and patella (tendon) were all destroyed and I broke my left ankle."
From there, she bounced between two hospitals in New Hampshire, had three surgeries, the first to put her ribcage back together lasted seven hours. She has four titanium rods around her ribcage holding it together. That procedure followed with ankle surgery, and went on to have the MCL and patella tendon done together. She then spent over a month rehabbing from all of the injuries, before spending the next month in a wheelchair and the following four months on crutches.
Then came surgery number four, which came in October of 2015.
"I decided to get the ACL fixed," she said. "I had previously had the MCL and patella fixed. I was going to get the ACL done and I needed cadaver parts so I went to the University of Virginia's Medical Hospital (for the surgery). The doctor who actually did my ACL at UVA also did Tom Brady's ACL as he was on the team of physicians for the Patriots before he went to UVA. I thought that was really cool."
But what wasn't so 'cool' was spending nearly 18 months in total in physical rehab.
"It was horrendous," said Currier. "I had to learn how to walk again. By the time I got Tony's ACL, I had the other surgeries already so I needed to learn how to walk well again. The rehab for the ACL was another six months. Luckily it was arthroscopic surgery. I was on the couch for a few days but the bending was the worst part. I'll never get total flexibility back in my leg. When I first got to rehab, I was there four days a week, just trying to learn how to walk again and how to bend."
Throughout that time of trying to get back on her feet, literally, there wasn't a day that went by that Currier didn't count her blessings.
"Not to exaggerate, at least five times a week I still say to myself 'Oh my God, I should be dead'. I'm not a religious person, but I should have died that day and there's a reason I didn't," said Currier, who is a college professor who teaches sociology and gender studies.
THE ONE AND ONLY
Back in the spring of this year, Donna sent out a letter to all 48 recipients first to introduce herself and second to explain the Tony 5K race, while asking if anyone wanted to take part in this year's event.
"Everything is done anonymously when you are an organ donor and a recipient," explained Donna. "It all goes through the New England Organ Donor Bank. They forwarded by letter to several of the donor recipients. I heard from one of them and that was Danielle."
Immediately after getting the letter, Currier knew that she would be taking a trip to Wilmington, Mass in October.
"Around April or May of this year, I received a letter from Donna and she explained that they have been doing the 5K race for years and she was reaching out to people who received Tony's organs, and was wondering if I wanted to do it and I said of course," said Currier. "The fact that I am from New England and yet I got the ACL in Virginia is just crazy to me. The ACL is the only thing that is not mine and that's what makes this so special."
Certainly there's a special place in Donna's heart knowing that Tony helped so many people.
"I knew that Tony had forty-eight donations — forty-eight different people who received his organs and tissue," said Donna. "Two people were given his corneas and regained their sight. A one-year old baby had a hole in her heart and his heart valve was used to repair her heart. The ACL was used for Danielle and there was one other who had a tendon repaired, but I don’t know anything further about her.
"I think this is an incredible story, Danielle spent the whole day with us — all of Tony’s family and I actually had a party after the race and she came and it was like she was one of us. I told her welcome to the family and you’re stuck with us. She said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
"If anything can come out of this, I hope people consider discussing their wishes with their family members. If they want to be organ donors when they’re healthy, they can register online through the New England Organ Bank or when you renew your license, you can indicate that you want to be a donor. Tony didn’t indicate it so I had to make that decision and it’s not an easy decision to make when you’re in shock. But it has to be made in that time frame.
“People should have these important conversations ahead of time. We all think we’re going to be here forever and I certainly didn’t think when Tony left that night that he would never come back."
It seems like he did, just in a different way.
"It's an honor to have Tony's ACL and it's just amazing," said Currier. "Hopefully, I'll be friends with Donna and her girls for a long time."
Dan Zimmerman contributed to this report.