FARGO — Shawn O'Donnell came close to death while directing traffic as a volunteer during the 2009 Red River flood.

A car struck O'Donnell, causing serious injuries that required months of healing and trouble him to this day with issues ranging from migraine headaches to memory problems.

"I had to learn how to walk again," recalled O'Donnell, who is 39 and works at North Dakota State University with the Air Force ROTC.

O'Donnell also continues to work as a volunteer. Nowadays that means filling in as a medic with Harwood Fire and Rescue.

During the 2009 flood, O'Donnell was a volunteer with the nonprofit group Emergency Vehicle Assistance and Communication, or EVAC, when he was struck by a car while directing traffic on University Drive in north Fargo.

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He has few memories of the collision, though he can remember calling for help by pressing the call button on his radio and yelling for assistance, as he was unable to raise the microphone to his face.

The injuries he suffered required surgeries and lengthy hospital stays, which included treatment with a "halo" device that kept his head and neck stable while a spinal injury healed. He also suffered two broken ankles and a broken left wrist.

Shawn O'Donnell talks on the phone with a friend while recuperating from injuries suffered when a car struck him while he was volunteering during the 2009 flood. Forum file photo
Shawn O'Donnell talks on the phone with a friend while recuperating from injuries suffered when a car struck him while he was volunteering during the 2009 flood. Forum file photo

As difficult as the trauma was, it couldn't extinguish O'Donnell's desire to serve the community and he was back volunteering with EVAC during the 2010 flood.

He's been recognized for his service in a number of ways.

Following the flood of 2009, O'Donnell was among the flood fighters who received free admission to a Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks baseball game. Afterward, he received a game ball signed by a number of dignitaries, including then Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney and the late mayor of Fargo, Dennis Walaker.

Shawn O’Donnell displays a keepsake baseball signed by the late Fargo mayor, Dennis Walaker, and former sheriffs Paul Laney and Bill Bergquist at his home in north Fargo. O’Donnell was seriously injured as a volunteer directing traffic in north Fargo during the 2009 flood. David Samson / The Forum
Shawn O’Donnell displays a keepsake baseball signed by the late Fargo mayor, Dennis Walaker, and former sheriffs Paul Laney and Bill Bergquist at his home in north Fargo. O’Donnell was seriously injured as a volunteer directing traffic in north Fargo during the 2009 flood. David Samson / The Forum

O'Donnell also received an honorary Purple Heart medal from the Fargo Police Department, which is in a frame and hangs on a wall of his north Fargo home.

Today, O'Donnell says he remains grateful to members of the public as well as police, fire and emergency services departments that helped him when he was unable to work.

As for those lasting effects from the crash?

"I'm still pushing through and doing good," O'Donnell said.