A Conversation with Transit Police Officer Dic Donohue

As he continues to heal from wounds sustained during the manhunt for the alleged bombing suspects, Donohue remains upbeat and positive.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

For a man who lost a close friend—MIT Officer Sean Collier—and nearly his own life, MBTA Transit Police Officer Dic Donohue is as optimistic and humble as can be.

In the final hours of the manhunt for the alleged Boston Marathon bombing suspects last April, Donohue was shot in the leg—a bullet lodging in his femoral artery—during a blast of gunfire in Watertown, leading to severe blood loss and setting him on a year-long road to recovery.

It’s been a year filled with rehabilitating, healing, coming to grips with a night filled with confusion while hunting down suspected terrorists, and meeting many new friends and faces. But Donohue has handled it well, and he continues to stay positive about his full recovery.

The officer, who became a public icon and a symbol of heroism after the capture of Dzhkohar Tsarnaev, said he has a lot to look forward to as he begins mapping out a plan so he can eventually return to duty. Donohue took a few minutes to talk with Boston about the past year, and opened up about where he’s at with the 2014 marathon right around the corner.

How is everything? How are you feeling?

I always tell people things are going well, but my wife says, ‘will you tell people the truth?’ The truth is there is this lingering pain in my foot still. But other stuff compensates for it. When I look back a year ago, I’m doing a hell of a lot better than I was last April. The aching is kind of going away. I still have lingering pain in my foot. It went away for a bit but started to come back a lot. At first I had none, then it came back and I had this pain. Like burning. But I can feel all my toes and move all them like I used to, so that’s good.

Your schedule has been pretty packed for the last year, but you’ve handled it pretty well. Think things will ever slow down for you?

Yeah. I think by April 20, things will kind of slow down. I’m looking forward to that day. But I have things planned through June as of now, and a couple things trailing off through the rest of the year. At the same point in time, I have some things scheduled with the American Red Cross. We did a blood drive together after I was injured, and it was kind of sponsored by me, and now I have gone to events with the Red Cross folks and spoken at blood drives. It’s become a significant part of my life. They got there quick [the night I was shot], and reinforcements got there quickly, and it’s become something that’s really important to me. For somebody that isn’t working right now, I stay pretty busy though, definitely. I also have to do physical therapy three times a week. But I’m not just screwing around going to events. I’m working hard. I really am. I go to the gym and stuff like that.

Is working out hard because of your injuries? Or is it getting easier?

I’m getting some strength back. Hopefully when I get the strength back, we can start looking at the end product, which really is me getting back to work.

When do you think that will happen?

I saw a doctor the other day and I said ‘hey, do you have the date on when I can go back?’ And he said there is no date yet. Nothing yet. But I’m hoping sometime in 2014 if all goes wall, even if it’s December 31, it’s better than nothing.

You’re really itching to get back, huh?

Yeah, you know, it is still work. But I want to get back and get back into the swing of things, and get back and see the guys that I work with. The guys I work with—you work closely with them and you share so many hours together that they’re like my brothers. They have been really supportive of me and my family through all of this.

Are you nervous about going back after what happened?

My only concern is that the pain doesn’t go away, and that would keep from working at all. I’m not really worried about anything else. If anything, it has eliminated any fear that I had about the job. After all the speaking in public or speaking to someone like you, and doing events in front of thousands of people, it’s become easier. I don’t want to say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but let’s hope it doesn’t. Although my wife always says, “this was going to happen at some point or another.” And I said it would never happen, but like everything else, she was right, of course.

Going back to that night, are you starting to remember things more clearly?

At first, the memory loss was pretty significant, but it’s come back. I don’t remember April 19. I remember the 18th. I remember just a little bit of the day…the rest is kind of hazy, it was sort of one day to the other. I remember the marathon day pretty vividly now. I have seen some news clips, too, and there I was, in Cambridge, where Officer [Sean] Collier was killed, and I was like, ‘man, I know I was there, but I couldn’t tell you what I was saying to the other guys there.’ It’s kind of strange. People ask what I think, and I just say I don’t know.

We saw you were looking to host a meet-up with people that have helped you through this last year.

At some point. I don’t want to give a date, time, or location, but in the next few weeks I am trying put that together. I would like to plan something, but there is nothing concrete. There are a lot of ‘thank yous’ that need to be said, and we’d like to do something for people that are special to us.

Your wife has also been really supportive this whole time. How has your bond strengthened?

The biggest bond is with our son, actually. My wife definitely puts up with the ridiculousness of having to be a police spouse. Number one, it’s not easy because of the late hours in general, or maybe because I will be working a detail during the overnight shifts and into the morning—it’s a tough kind of thing to deal with already, and you throw this on top of all of the events and appearances, and people calling her and emailing her. You know for a long time [after I was shot], I couldn’t physically, like, lift my son up and do stuff with my son. She took on most of those tasks at home, too. It’s definitely admirable in my eyes. She has put up with a lot and done a lot.

Do you guys have any plans for this year’s marathon? Do you think you’ll go?

Everyone asks that, and we don’t have anything set in stone. We will be going to Watertown on the 19th because there’s a big blood drive and road race that day. On the 18th, there will be events for Officer Collier and his family, and the 21st, we have some friends running in the Marathon, but we don’t have anything set in stone. I don’t know if we will go to the marathon yet.

Have you been back to Watertown since that night?

I randomly run into officers and attend events. A strange example of running into people was the boxing match at the House of Blues on St Patrick’s Day. Ken Casey [from the Dropkick Murphys] called me up on stage during the event, and after I got off stage, I went to my seat and a buddy of mine texted me and said, ‘hey good job up there.’ It was actually the same guy that did CPR on me [the night I got shot]. We hung out for a few minutes [at the boxing event]. We randomly see each other and kind of catch up and get lunch, or have our kids go play with each other. You could say my circle of friends has definitely grown.

All the way to Ken Casey, too.

It’s people I would never know otherwise. Sometimes it’s still kind of weird. It’s like, ‘did I just meet them?’ Every day—well not every day—there is some crazy weird stuff.

A lot of weird developments, too. As everything sort of unfolds and more news comes out, how do you feel?

It’s interesting to read [about it]. I just definitely find it interesting, and the more I know about everything, the better informed I am [about what happened].