Wounded Mount Vernon officer is home, 'overwhelmed' by support
SEATTLE - He was on the brink of death, but on Tuesday afternoon, Officer Mike McClaughry walked out of Harborview Medical Center and returned home for the first time since being shot in the head.
At a news conference before his departure, he spoke with a strong voice about the "overwhelming support" he has received during the course of his miracle recovery.
"I'm so overwhelmed by the response from everybody - the interest, the words of kindness and encouragement," he said at Harborview, flanked by the medical care team that worked with him and fellow officers from the Mount Vernon Police Department.
He and his family then received a police escort for the 60-mile journey home to Mount Vernon, where he arrived to a hero's welcome as hundreds of people lined the streets to wish him well.
"Just doing my part to welcome Mick home and thanking law enforcement for everything they do for all of us," said John Green, whose son is an officer in the department. "It’s just awe inspiring to see him and it’s awe inspiring to see the support that they get because sometimes they don’t get it."
McClaughry paused on arriving at the police station to address the crowd.
"I'm loving you all for doing this," he said.
The shooting has left McClaughry nearly blind - he can only see variances of light and a little color - and has some short-term memory problems.
"I just wish I could see you -- those smiling faces out there," McClaughry said.
Doctors, meanwhile, say he exceeded all expectations.
“He came in and he was expected to die,” said Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, the chair of the department of neurological surgery at UW Medicine. “It's pretty inspiring, to even me, who does this every day."
Ellenbogen has overseen McClaughry's treatment ever since the Mount Vernon police officer was shot in the back of the head while responding to a 911 call back on Dec. 15. Despite the grave nature of the injury, within weeks McClaughry woke up from his coma and started talking.
Now home, McClaughry has high hopes of gradually regaining at least some of his eyesight.
"I want to see my daughter smiling. I want to see my grandchildren. It's more or less in God's hands right now," he says.
Even in the darkest moments, the doctor said the officer’s family – and especially his wife – never lost hope.
“She didn't give up on him, and she just said he's going to be fine and he's going to get better," Ellenbogen said.
McClaughry also credited his mother and father with raising him to have "courage, understanding and patience. "They are very wise people, my parents are. I credit them a lot."
He says he can remember bits and pieces of the day he was shot, but in no coherent fashion.
"There's a lot of bright light, I remember a lot of passionate voices, concern and worry, but no clear recollection of all the events," he says.
Numerous fundraisers have been held to help the family, including a spaghetti dinner at the Mount Vernon Elk's Lodge on Monday night.
Past donations have helped pay for several modifications to McClaughry's home. Because the gunshot left him nearly blind, the family has installed hand holds in the shower and bathroom so the officer can steady himself, as well as rails for the stairways.
Doctors doubt McClaughry will ever recover his vision but admit that this is one patient who has proven them wrong before.
“I think he taught us all that miracles can happen, even though the science may tell you otherwise, and that the spirit is indomitable," Ellenbogen said.