In honor of Veterans Day, we’d like to share the following personal story written by Nichole Donnelly, LPN, Sentara Family Medicine Physicians, St. Luke’s, as she reflects why she became a nurse.

My true story of becoming a nurse 

Michael Donnelly is pictured in his dress blue uniform in 2003.

I recently fulfilled my dream of becoming a nurse. The true story lies within the road that led me here. Throughout my life, I was exposed to the medical atmosphere, beginning at age 12 when my mother was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. In 2005, after a 10-year battle, my mother lost her fight against breast cancer.  The day my mother passed was also the last time I saw my husband, Michael, as the same 22-year-old, I had been in love with since we first met when I was 9.

A day I will never forget

On July 21, 2005, I lost my mother. I was 21-years-old, six months pregnant and my husband had just left on a plane for Iraq to serve in the front line infantry as a United States Marine.

But from here, the story changes even further.

Again, another day I will never forget

A mere 5 months later on November 15, 2005, I was at home with our two beautiful daughters MaKayla 3, Alyssa 2, and our newborn son, Dylan 3-weeks-old, when I received a phone call that further changed our young lives forever, but created the path that we now journey.

It was my husband’s command calling to inform me that Michael had been struck by a suicide car bomb in Al Karmah, Iraq. He was being stabilized so he could be sent to Germany for more proper medical treatment.

Then they dropped the last line. 

“Mrs. Donnelly, as of right now, Sgt. Donnelly only has a 5% rate of survival due to massive amounts of bleeding,” he said.

The next few days dragged on as we waited for him to stabilize enough to be transported from Germany to Bethesda, Maryland, via airplane that had been converted into a mini hospital. On Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2005, he finally landed on the flight to what became our temporary home at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center.

Ten days after his accident I saw the extensive damage firsthand. Michael lost the femoral artery in his right leg; had 18 fractures of his tibia and fibula; and all of the muscle and tissue on the bottom portion of his left leg had been blown out, which left all his fractures exposed. He suffered hundreds of shrapnel wounds, including one that struck his neck and missed his carotid artery by 2mm, leaving him with a 4-inch gash on his neck.

During our 8-week stay at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, Michael encountered 54 surgeries, over 30 pints of blood, and a very long recovery process ahead for both of us.

At the ages of 22 and 21, we were faced with very difficult choices to make. Our biggest decision was not having Michael’s left leg amputated, despite the potential bleak outcome. We were up for the challenge against us and opted not to have his leg amputated. Our instincts were right and Michael’s leg was able to be saved. Even with some chronic pain and vascular issues, it meant everything to Michael.

While staying at the hospital, I had the chance to meet so many wonderful people. Every day I was there, I saw Marines who were unsure if they’d ever walk again. Slowly one by one, each one left the hospital and moved to the next phase of their recovery.

My dream begins to unfold

My graduation from nursing school January 2012.

The joy and support the nurses and Corpsmen gave  these young men helped each one push forward and win the fight. Seeing the difference they made is what made me want to become a nurse, so I could give people that same sense of joy and happiness.

So, after 18 months of Michael’s rehab, I made the decision to enroll in nursing school. Little by little through many more surgeries and one surprise pregnancy, I made my dream happen.

On February 17, 2012, I passed my state boards and officially became a nurse.

My story keeps growing

Now our lives are completely different. Michael and I have been married for 10 years and we have four awesome kids: MaKayla 10, Alyssa 9, Dylan 7, and Brayden 3. Gratefully they were young enough not to be affected by this event, but they will never forget the day “Daddy was a Prince in another land and a dragon blew hot fire on him!” One day they’ll be old enough to understand the circumstances of the story, but for now, he sounds like a super cool Daddy.

The Donnelly family pictured (L-R) Dylan, Alyssa (kneeling), Nichole, Brayden (seated), Michael and MaKayla.


Michael medically retired from the United States Marine Corp in May 2012, as a SSgt., having served two additional tours in both Haiti (2010) and briefly in Afghanistan (2011).

As for me…I couldn’t be HAPPIER.

I began working at Sentara Healthcare in April 2012, as my first nursing  job and have since found my home at Sentara Family Medicine Physicians, St. Lukes with Dr. Foroozan Chi.

I know my future in nursing and in helping other people is full of endless amounts of joy and fulfillment. In my heart, I know the path I have chosen is the one God paved for me, even with the bumps I’ve hit along the way!

Happy Veterans Day and THANK YOU to all of our service members who serve in both the United States and in several countries overseas. Your commitment is a gift to so many.  Please stay safe and know that you are appreciated!