An Oklahoma City police sergeant has a new outlook on life after suffering a spinal stroke while on vacation last week.
Donny Koger came close to being paralyzed, but an experimental surgery turned everything around for him.
Sergeant Koger was off-roading in Arkansas with his friends and family when the stroke hit him, but he happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The 4-wheeler trip started off like every other for Donny and his friends. But on Friday, March 16, as the group was taking a break at a rural Arkansas cave, everything changed.
“I felt something going on,” Donny says. “I was losing strength, kind of getting a little disoriented.”
As he tried to tell his wife Becky how he was feeling, Donny started to collapse. Soon he was experiencing full paralysis. “Wasn’t able to talk,” he says. “I could see. I could hear. I could hear everything they were saying.”
His friends raced him down the hill on an ATV, checking vital signs and calling ahead for an ambulance. Kaitlyn Francis is a nursing student, who says, “At the time, I didn’t think it was a stroke. I thought it…it could have been anything.”
Donny was at the local hospital within an hour and from there he was medi-flighted to the University of Arkansas hospital in Little Rock, still not knowing exactly what was wrong.
“They say your life flashes before your eyes,” says Donny. “Mine was like pictures of family and friends and what we did just kept going through my mind.”
Doctors confirmed Donny suffered a spinal stroke and would likely remain paralyzed from the neck down. There was a 5% chance the surgery they had been developing would work.
Donny’s wife Rebecca waited anxiously with their friends outside. She says of the doctors, “They’re so stern and they hide their emotions so well, but when you see someone come around the corner of a surgery room and they’re smiling, and these beautiful white teeth are smiling at you, it’s a feeling that you cannot explain.”
The surgery, for the first time in history, was a complete success. Less than a week later, Donny walked out of the hospital.
“To hear it’s only been done two or three times and I’m the only one with success, it’s really overwhelming,” he says.
While he still does not know what caused the stroke or why, more than ever Donny and his family are confident that everything happens for a reason. “Can’t sweat the small stuff,” he says. “Everybody does. I’m not going to sweat it no more.”
Doctors in Arkansas are excitedly studying Donny's case to hopefully replicate it for future patients.