Tiffany O'Donnell, principal of Shady Cove and Elk Trail schools, recovers with her dog, Luna, from a motorcycle accident that happened on Sept. 13 on her way from one school to the other. - Jamie Lusch

Upper Rogue principal is on the mend

Even when Shady Cove-Elk Trail schools Principal Tiffany O'Donnell lay crushed on the asphalt of Highway 62 Sept. 13 after a motorist making an illegal U-turn struck her on her motorcycle, she knew she would survive her injuries.

More than six weeks later, O'Donnell, 44, is recovering at her Medford home and wrapping up a week of milestones in her long recovery from a crushed pelvis and right leg.

"I want everybody to know I'm doing really well," she said.

On Monday, she began vigorous physical therapy and has been walking with a walker and crutches. By Wednesday, she had graduated from a hospital-style bed to a reclining couch with a medical leg-prop. Today, she is scheduled to see her students at Elk Trail Elementary and Shady Cove School for the first time since the accident.

Her visit coincides with the schools' Halloween festivities. Today marks the schools' Fake Injury Day, a popular event involving students and staff donning costumes that depict fake injuries. O'Donnell chose the day to add a dose of humor to an ordeal that has been the opposite of humorous.

"Every step is a joy," she said.

At about 4:20 p.m. On Sept. 13, O'Donnell was headed to Shady Cove School after concluding a parent meeting at Elk Trail Elementary School. She had just turned her Suzuki motorcycle west onto Highway 62 from Elk Creek Road and driven about 500 yards when Prospect resident Caroline Whitacre made an illegal U-turn and her Nissan Frontier pickup truck smashed head first into O'Donnell's right side. Whitacre was cited by Oregon State Police for making an illegal U-turn. The impact caused multiple fractures in O'Donnell's pelvis and upper and lower right leg and ruptured her bladder.

O'Donnell was conscious throughout the wait for the ambulance and transportation to two different hospitals, one in Medford and then one in Portland.

"The people who stopped by to help were amazing," O'Donnell said. "A woman named Kit (Jones) from Prospect did everything I asked, including asking everyone to be quiet. It was upsetting to me to hear what they were saying as I was lying there." That included comments by the driver of the truck about who was at fault for the accident and comments from others about O'Donnell's condition. O'Donnell's co-worker, Lynda Marasco, also stopped at the scene to help.

It took an hour to transport her to Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford.

"I could feel the pain, but I was breathing to control it," said O'Donnell, who is a long-distance runner and practices yoga.

She was later flown to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, where she underwent emergency surgery to repair her bladder. She remained at OHSU for three weeks and underwent six surgeries, which took a total of 35 hours. The surgeons reconstructed her leg, and she is expected to be able to run again, she said.

"It was the most pain I've experienced," said O'Donnell, who has three children and three grandchildren.

Ten of her colleagues from the Eagle Point School District went to Portland to see her in the hospital, but she was in surgery most of the time they were there, she said.

"It was really nice to hear how many people were there, and I wish I could have told them I knew I was going to be all right," she said. "I never thought of death, but I didn't realize there was a possibility of losing my lower leg. I learned that later from the ambulance driver and the people on the scene."

The first three weeks were the most difficult, as she experienced excruciating pain.

Cards and communications from friends and colleagues were crucial to keeping her spirits up, she said.

"There were cards in the mail every day," she said. "Reading those cards was the greatest comfort. I had no idea how many people would respond. I just want people to know that is really important. It really makes the person who is healing feel really good."

Her doctors have whittled her dozen medications down to eight. Many of the drugs were intended to address side effects of others, she said. One of the drugs is for a blood clot in her left leg and has to be injected twice a day into her abdomen.

Doctors haven't given her an estimate of when she may return to work, but it will be about 12 weeks before she can put any weight on her right leg.

Tiffanie Lambert, a special education teacher at White Mountain Middle School in White City, is filling in for O'Donnell while she is healing.

O'Donnell's short-term goal is to return to "her kids" at Shady Cove and Elk Trail, and ultimately, she hopes to resume long distance running.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail

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