York officer Lee McClellan is a ‘miracle walking’ 3 weeks after accident

McClellan finds strength in family, friends after accident

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comDecember 13, 2012 

— Lee McClellan’s handshake is firm.

He walks. He talks. He gives tutorials on bow hunting and rundowns on how he killed, then mounted, two kinds of turkeys and a New Mexico elk.

And though he winces just a bit, he can lift his arm just above his ears. He quickly puts it back down, clutching the right side of his chest, where he says doctors inserted a tube to suction fluid from a collapsed lung. The area is still sore. So is his entire right side, where he has seven broken ribs. Seven ribs are bruised on the other side.

After a two-week stay in the hospital, Lee McClellan, a York police officer injured almost three weeks ago when a boat fell on him, is home.

On Nov. 27, McClellan and a friend went to the garage of McClellan’s Rock Hill home to take the wheel bearings off a trailer with a boat attached to it. McClellan, off duty at the time but scheduled to work three hours later, positioned himself underneath the 3,500-pound boat, held up by cinderblocks, and tried to slam the bearings off the spin axle.

After about five or six blows, the cinderblocks shattered, and the boat fell on top of him.

He doesn’t remember much after that.

“That’s when I just blacked out,” he said while sitting in a chair beside the hospital bed in his living room.

His friend told him it was six to eight minutes before McClellan was freed.

“It was a freak accident,” Lee McClellan said, adding that God wasn’t ready to take him yet. “I’ve got three beautiful children and a beautiful wife to take care of.”

Mary Beth McClellan, his wife of 11 years, fielded questions from the couple’s three children: Mary Katherine, 11; Hunter, 9; and Matthew, 5.

They wondered if “daddy would be home for Christmas,” Mary Beth McClellan said. Hunter McClellan, who, like his dad, loves the outdoors and shooting wildlife, had questions his mother called “deep.”

“Hunter’s two questions were, ‘Is daddy going to remember me?’ and ‘Is daddy going to remember us going hunting?’ ”

Lee McClellan remembers his son’s first kill, where he used a shotgun to take down a wild turkey. He doesn’t remember being rushed to the hospital or being placed on a ventilator.

He’s let his wife fill him in on the rest of his ordeal. She remembers it well.

On day one, the trauma team at Charlotte’s Carolinas Medical Center took Lee McClellan in for what the family thought would be immediate emergency surgery. After several hours of waiting and not being able to see Lee, Mary Beth McClellan and Lee’s father, Dale McClellan, learned doctors would try to suction out fluid from his collapsed lungs

“He was completely purple,” Mary Beth McClellan recalled. They gave him blood-clotting agents to halt bleeding from his liver and spleen.

At one point, doctors came out and gave her his wedding band, telling her they wouldn’t have to cut it off because his hand hadn’t swollen up yet.

“She thought that was it,” Lee McClellan said, almost smiling. “But it wasn’t. The Lord said, ‘Keep fighting.’ ”

The next day, hospital staff monitored his hemoglobin levels in his liver and spleen hourly, checking to see if he would require surgery. For several days, a heavy outpour of blood and liver secretions flowed from her husband’s body, Mary Beth McClellan said. While in the hospital, Lee developed a blood infection, urinary infection and pneumonia.

But those, like the internal bleeding and damage to his liver and spleen, healed. Eventually, doctors decided against surgery. They gave him a feeding tube instead.

“That’s when I knew in my heart he was going to be OK,” she said. “I finally told the kids that Thursday that daddy was going to be OK.”

Healing at home

After he was removed from the intensive care unit, Lee McClellan got his own room. He was able to communicate on a dry-erase board that Mary Beth McClellan kept and now stores in a plastic bag.

“I can’t explain it,” Mary Beth McClellan said. “It was so overwhelming. My husband was truly a miracle walking. It just gives me cold chills. For anybody to say there is not a God…”

“Not true, is it baby?” Lee McClellan finished.

Saturday morning, a day after doctors removed his chest tube, they planned to start his physical therapy. By Saturday evening, another doctor had him climb up and down stairs and walk around a hospital corridor. With that, he decided to discharge Lee. Around 8:30 p.m., Lee was back home.

The road to recovery will be longer than a stay in the hospital. He estimates he’ll be waiting four to six weeks for his ribs to heal.

Breathing hurts. So does laughing. So does anything that requires him to expand his diaphragm.

“Laughing, sneezing and crying is the worst thing you can do,” he said about his condition. After coming home, McClellan said he and his family “got tickled” about something. He started to laugh. Seconds later, he started to cry.

Mary Beth McClellan followed suit.

Even when gushing about her husband’s recovery, she still sheds some tears.

He keeps down solid foods well, he said.

“I eat like a champ.”

Taking a bath is a hassle, sleeping on his back uncomfortable and riding in a car difficult.

“I feel every bump in the road,” he said.

Blood dots the whites of his eyes. They look much better than they did a few weeks ago, his wife said.

His eyes, she said, were “so red they were black. I thought he wouldn’t be able to see again.”

“Everybody says I look great” compared to what he looked like in the hours after the accident, Lee McClellan said.

“From life support to now, you look like a supermodel,” Mary Beth McClellan replied.

‘Brotherhood you can’t explain’

Lee McClellan said he’s thankful for the community’s support, ranging from the people who bring his family food each night to the dozens of people who stood in the hospital waiting room, all of them doing the same thing – praying.

“I believe in the power of prayer,” he said.

Word of the accident spread, reaching people in West Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia and even a missions team in South Africa, his wife said.

Fellow officers from the York Police Department where he’s served as a lance corporal for the last three months and the Rock Hill Police Department where he worked for three years, have rallied around Lee since the accident.

“There’s just a brotherhood you can’t explain,” Lee said.

While in the Army Airborne division, Lee made lifelong friends, many who can empathize with their shared experiences. Even that is “nothing like the police brotherhood,” he said.

York Police Lance Cpl. Brian Kimble visited him at home. Kimble and Lee McClellan formed a fast friendship. Kimble works the day shift. Lee McClellan, under normal circumstances, relieves him for the night shift.

When Kimble went to see Lee McClellan in the hospital, he said his colleague was purple and swollen. He wasn’t sure whether Lee McClellan would be able to see accurately with his bloodshot eyes.

Kimble was pleased with the officer’s recovery.

“He’ll be ready to come back sooner than we thought,” Kimble said chuckling.

Mary Beth McClellan admitted that she hadn’t met any York police officers before the accident.

Now, in the aftermath, she said: “They’re the nicest, sweetest people I’ve met.”

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Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082

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