WINCHESTER — Richard Donohue, the MBTA Transit Police officer who nearly died from a gunshot wound days after the Boston Marathon bombing, was recuperating from an intense therapy session one afternoon in June, when a veteran entered his recovery room at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
She walked with a limp. Donohue and his wife, Kim, quickly noticed that she had prosthetic legs, one of them emblazoned with stars and stripes.
The woman was US Representative Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who was shot down while flying over Iraq in 2004. She had lost both her legs and partial use of her right arm in the explosion, and her injuries earned her a Purple Heart.
Donohue, who served in the Navy before joining the MBTA force, was in tough shape, suffering from pain from nerve damage left by a bullet in his left leg, the result of being shot in Watertown on April 19 during the manhunt for the Marathon bombing suspects.
Donohue asked Duckworth about the pain. She told him that it gets better.
He asked her about ghost limb feelings. She said she was still experiencing them.
“The hardest challenge — simply surviving — was already achieved,’’ Donohue recounted Duckworth as saying. “Everything was easier from there.’’
Standing in the crisp autumn sun in his hometown, Donohue delivered his first public tribute to the people who inspired him during his long recovery: the doctors, the nurses, the veterans like Duckworth. He said his recovery is far from over.
After a parade, musical tributes, and speeches honoring veterans, Donohue hailed his late grandfather Edward O’Connell, a veteran, and his brother Ed, a Winchester police officer and Marine.
“I want to say thank you,’’ Donohue said, as he stood in a dark blue MBTA uniform and hat before an audience of law enforcement officials, schoolchildren, and other town residents who participated in the Veterans Day ceremony and parade. “The Winchester community came to my side in April. Your thoughts, prayers, letters of support, and other contributions have made my recovery that much easier.”
He said he would not have made it without the quick action of officers on the scene during that chaotic night seven months ago.
“I was shot in the leg,’’ Donohue told the crowd. “With bullets flying around and explosions going off, other officers — many of whom are veterans — courageously rendered lifesaving CPR and first aid. As my brother will boast, most of those guys are Marines.”
But Donohue spent most of his speech recounting the day in June when Duckworth entered his life.
“Just like every veteran I know, she doesn’t credit herself for landing the helicopter or surviving the attack, but she is indebted to her crew for getting her back alive,’’ Donohue said.
Donohue said he was impressed that Duckworth did not dwell on her ordeal. Instead, she focused on connecting with him and other bombing victims still coping with their recovery.
“Overall, what she faced wasn’t easy, but it was a challenge she accepted and lived with,’’ he said.
After his speech, Donohue lingered to shake hands with people who had stood with tears in their eyes and listened to him. They wanted to meet him, take pictures with him, or pat him on his back.
“He’s a Winchester guy. He’s a veteran,’’ said parade marshal Greg Quill. “He’s a guy who almost paid the ultimate price for defending our freedom.”
Donohue acknowledged that his recovery will take more time. He still has trouble walking, running, or sitting down for long periods. But he said he will be fine.
“I’m taking it day by day, but there’s quite a long way to go,’’ he said.
His grandmother, Barbara O’Connell, who helped to organize the event, said that Donohue is in a lot of pain. “It’s going to be a long recovery,’’ she said. “People may look good, but there is a lot they do not show.”
Toward the end of his Winchester visit, someone whispered to Donohue’s mother, Consuelo Donohue, that her son did not look well. But Donohue stood around, smiling as he greeted Paul MacDonald, a 76-year-old Air Force veteran, who leaned on a cane.
“How are you doing?’’ MacDonald asked Donohue.
“Getting there,’’ the younger man replied, pausing. “I have time. I just have to have patience.”