A step in the right direction

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 20:11
Eagle River man continues to recover from ’09 accident
Eagle River’s Conor Daugharty poses for a photo outside the Eagle River Shopping Center. The 25-year-old has made dramatic improvements since a 2009 auto accident left him clinging to life. But the recent college grad is the first to admit he’s still got a long way to go.

Conor Daugharty’s battle to overcome injuries suffered in a devastating car accident didn’t end when the Eagle River man crossed the stage at Sullivan Arena on May 12 to receive his business degree from UAA.

“I’ve come quite a ways,” Daugharty, 25, said during an interview at Jitters Coffee Shop on May 12. “But I still have a lot to do.”

Daugharty, a 2005 Chugiak High graduate, was just 18 credits shy of earning his degree from UAA when his stopped vehicle was struck at the corner of the Glenn Highway and Mountain View Drive in Anchorage on May 8, 2009. The accident nearly killed him, leaving him in a coma for several weeks. When he awoke, Conor found himself unable to walk or talk. Since then, he’s been receiving treatment Outside, embarking on the grueling process of getting his life back on track.

After three years of therapy, Conor can now walk with the assistance of a walker and his speech improves daily. But his words come slowly, and he said it’s sometimes frustrating to put his thoughts into words.

“Mentally I’m all there,” he said. “My problems are all around my physical ability.”

But he’s determined to overcome his problems, and has taken to his therapy with the same relentless drive that made him a captain on the CHS basketball team. He trains five days a week to get his body back into shape, and spends countless hours on the elliptical machine doing card work.

“The last time I went to the doctors, they said my heart rate was abnormally low,” he said proudly.

His mother, Patty, said her son won’t rest until he’s 100 percent back to where he was before the accident.

“He’s got a target and he’s working for it all the time,” she said.

Although he still can’t do a lot of the things he did before the accident, Conor has discovered a new way to keep his competitive streak occupied.

“Across the border in Iowa they have legalized gambling,” he said with a wry grin.

Conor said he enjoys playing blackjack, where he has to use his mind to put the odds in his favor.

“At the backjack tables, I get to think about if I want to take a hit or not,” he said.

He said he’s now something of a card sharp, and brags that he’s up “about $3,000” on the blackjack tables.

“That’s what all the gamblers say,” Patty joked.

While the accident temporarily derailed Conor’s plans of getting a college degree, it couldn’t stop him.

While undergoing therapy in Nebraska, he completed the necessary credits to earn a degree from UAA by taking classes online, and on May 12 he walked across the stage with the help of Brian Oliver and Tommy Wanet, two of his boyhood friends from Eagle River.

After making the trip to Alaska for graduation, Conor recently returned to Nebraska, where he’ll continue his recovery — and, eventually, his education.

“I would like to enter law school next,” he said.

Conor said he plans to begin studying for the LSAT test soon, and thinks it “might be cool” to become a judge someday.

The recent return visit to Eagle River, he said, was a special one. The first fundraiser to support his family, he pointed out, was held “right here at Jitters,” and just getting to see his old stomping grounds and so many familiar faces was a moving experience.

“This trip back reaffirms this is my home,” he said.

In the days and weeks after his accident Patty said the local community rallied around her son’s cause. Struggling to hold back tears, she said the support the family has received since Conor’s accident has been overwhelming.

“The support speaks truly of this being a village that cares about its residents,” she said.

While his return trip to Eagle River allowed him to reconnect with many of his old friends, Conor said he was anxious to return to Nebraska for more therapy. Rather than continue to find ways to deal with his condition, Conor said his ultimate goal is to return to the path his life was once on.

“I’m excited to go back to get this show on the road,” he said.


Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727.

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