It's a story that made headlines around the world when on April 30, 2005, Donny Herbert, a 43-year old Buffalo firefighter, stunned his doctors, family and friends when he suddenly emerged from a vegetative stupor after nearly 10 years.
Over the next 16 hours, Donny, who had been deprived of oxygen for six minutes when the roof of a burning building caved in on him in December 1995, began talking and became his old lovable self again, catching up with family and friends on the decade he'd lost. Donny gradually slipped back into a vegetative state and died in December 2006.
"The Day Donny Herbert Woke Up: A True Story," by Rich Blake, tells the story of Herbert's accident and his remarkable reawakening and what it meant to his family.
You can read a chapter from the book below.
On a chilly Friday afternoon just before Christmas 1986, Donny Herbert kissed his young wife, Linda, on the forehead, bear hugged his three toddler sons, and set off for his first-ever shift as a Buffalo firefighter. For the twenty-five-year-old Seneca Street kid, this was one of the proudest days of his life. Donny might not have gone to college, but he was the first member of his family to join the department. The written and physical tests, months of limbo waiting for a slot, eight difficult weeks at the Buffalo Fire Department Training Academy--all of it had led to this moment. Donny intentionally took his time putting on his official uniform--navy blue button-down shirt, navy blue pants, black dress shoes. He packed his '84 Chevette hatchback with his personal set of BFD turnout gear and waved good-bye.
"Good luck," Linda called from the front-porch doorway of their rickety Spaulding Street duplex, the shouting of the children drowning her out. Don Jr., a happy-go-lucky St. Agatha's kindergartner, was particularly amped up. "Daddy's gonna ride on the fire trucks!" he yelled as his younger brothers, Tommy and Patrick, parroted him, the three youngsters popping up and down like a set of firing pistons.
In a few days Donny would start an official four-day tour as a member of the department's second platoon, which meant a rotating schedule consisting of two nine-hour day shifts (eight A.M. to five P.M.) and two fifteen-hour evening shifts (five P.M. to eight a.M.), followed by four days off in a row. He was being thrown into the mix midcycle, starting with an overnight stint. Donny was assigned to Ladder 6, housed along with Engine 21 on the corner of Best Street and Earl Place in one of the worst of Buffalo's East Side neighborhoods. No matter; Donny looked forward to life at that firehouse, a two-story hilltop outpost of red brick. "The Hill," as it was known in the department, was more than a century old and located one block east of War Memorial Stadium, an unused concrete monolith nicknamed "the Rockpile." Donny embraced his new career with his usual enthusiasm, setting out for work more than an hour early. Donny had made roughly the same money, around twenty thousand dollars a year, at his old job, as a machinist at a Ryder manufacturing plant. But cutting steel and fashioning parts was brutally tedious work and not what Donny saw himself doing for the rest of his life.
As Linda turned to go back inside, she, too, was excited for Donny, though she realized suddenly that his being gone all night would take some getting used to. One thing she was not, however, was worried.