Donnie Manry poses with his son after Manry’s hospital escape in November, 2006.
It was 5 a.m. when Donnie Manry’s hunting partner scooped him out of his hospital bed, placed him in his wheelchair and then drove him to their Robertson County deer lease. Parked near a feeder, Manry shot a nice 8-pointer out of the passenger side window of the pick-up. He was back in his bed before too many folks at the rehabilitation hospital even knew he was missing in action.
It was 2006 and, by all accounts, the Bryan Police Officer wasn’t supposed to live long enough to make it to rifle season.
“I woke up one morning in July with a crick in my neck,” Manry says, describing the first symptoms of his illness. “The next morning it was worse and was accompanied by a horrific headache and muscle pain down both sides of my spine.” Soon, paralysis set in and that’s when he knew for sure it wasn’t just the flu or a summer cold that four physicians had assumed.
Unable to move from the chest down, Manry’s wife somehow managed to get him to the emergency room. Within a few hours the diagnosis was in: West Nile Virus. The Manry’s, and most everyone else in the Bryan/College Station area, had never heard of it.
After surviving his initial hospital stay, Manry remained paralyzed and required 6 months of rehabilitation.
Medical personnel were surprised that Manry, who was 43-years-old, lived through the night. He would spend the next 6 months in the hospital, slowly regaining some of the use of his limbs with intense physical therapy that re-taught some damaged nerves to reconnect.
Thanks to media coverage of the Donnie Manry case and his epic battle with the disease, soon, the entire Brazos Valley would become familiar with West Nile. His and a rash of other cases set off a panic that would last for years, especially during the height of mosquito season, April through September. Concerned parents refused to let their kids outdoors, fearful that their child would be bitten by a West Nile infected skeeter.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the majority of people who contract West Nile never know it. Some experience flu-like symptoms while the virus is active— but then the symptoms disappear.
“I was in the one-percent category,” Manry explains. “I had three of the neuroinvasive ailments from West Nile — encephalitis, meningitis and poliomyelitis.” (See West Nile symptoms).
Although thankful to be alive, he really didn’t see much hope for the future. Early on, the physical therapy was not producing results and he was doubtful it ever would.
Local coverage of Manry leaving the hospital. He will spend the next 18 months as an outpatient. (Click to enlarge)
But one day during rehab, his outlook changed. “I was lying on a mat, still paralyzed, and a man was wheeled in for physical therapy. One of his legs was amputated, and he saw me on the floor and said, ‘it’s going to be alright son; it’s going to be alright.’ That man made me realize it was up to me. It completely changed my attitude. I put it in God’s hands and realized if I am meant to walk again, I will, but either way, I’m going to be appreciative of what He’s given me.”
Once released from in-patient rehabilitation, Manry spent the next 18-months as an outpatient. He was forced to retire from the police department, ending his 24-year career. He now has a private investigator license and does contract work for attorneys.
He has moderate to severe hearing loss as a result of West Nile and wears hearing aids. He eventually graduated from his wheelchair, a walker, crutches and leg braces and now walks with a single cane. Once an avid runner, Manry can walk only short distances. He is unable to stoop or squat and steps are difficult. He can only cross a fence flat on his back.
But, he still hunts. Although bow hunting and ladder stands are no longer an option, he parks close to his specially designed ground blind. Oh, and his hunting partner — the same one that whisked him out of his hospital bed in 2006 — is not far away.