ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- "I should be dead."
That was Operations Specialist 2nd Class Dillon McLaughlin's first thought when he saw the images of his horrific accident. He suffered a cardiac and pulmonary contusion, a fractured jaw, multiple broken ribs, blunt force trauma to an ear, a lacerated liver, a displaced neck-bone, severe road-rash and a traumatic brain injury.
On Nov. 27, 2016, McLaughlin was driving home after spending time in South Jersey with his family.
"I went to sleep that night with a horrible feeling in my stomach," McLaughlin's now-fiancee Alexandria Fabiani. "He wasn't answering my phone calls. I dozed off and woke up to my phone ringing at 2 a.m., I prayed [the caller ID] said his name, but instead it was his little brother. I knew instantly something was wrong."
"I was standing watch the night [USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75)] got the call," said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Jhonathon Paczkowski. "We were told that one of our Sailors was in a car accident. You never think things like that could actually happen to you or someone you know. When I found out it was Dillon I was devastated."
McLaughlin woke up December 18, 2016, wondering "Why am I not at work?"
Reporting to Truman's operations department as a seaman March 13, 2015, McLaughlin worked out of the combat direction center. He made rank quickly while also earning all three of his warfare pins in just over a year. He was qualified and seen as driven in the eyes of his peers.
"When he got here [McLaughlin] hit the ground running," said Operations Specialist 1st Class Angel Montoya, Operations Department's OI division's leading petty officer. "He's a great Sailor and an even better person. It was a terrible thing that happened to him, but at no time did I think he wasn't coming back. If anyone could go through that, recover, then come back to the ship it was him."
His vehicle was wrecked. Following the accident, McLaughlin was unresponsive and in a severe coma for three days, clinging to life with the support of a breathing machine.
"There was a guardian angel with me that night," said McLaughlin. "There's no way I should have lived through that."
"There were a lot of people at the hospital who were also attempting to recover from different injuries," said McLaughlin. "I was so fortunate my injuries were only what they were. Seeing them fight to recover just gave me more and more motivation to do the same."
Following his stay in an intensive care unit, he had a month-long hospital stay, then entered a poly-trauma traumatic rehabilitation program. While recovering, McLaughlin was told from multiple sources that he most likely would never be fit-for-full-duty.
"I knew he could do it," said Fabiani. "I knew how strong he was and I knew I would support him and stand by him through every obstacle, every decision."
During his time in the rehabilitation program, McLaughlin also studied for his advancement exam, very typical of such and outstanding Sailor. Spring of 2016, McLaughlin would take his exam while in his hospital room. Months later, he would put on a second chevron.
McLaughlin was constantly visited by family, friends and Sailors who wanted to show him all the support he had in his corner.
"The amount of care and support I received was unfathomable," said McLaughlin. "I'm so grateful I had those people there for me. This event in my life was hard on me, but I got through it and now I'm going to return the favor tenfold."
McLaughlin's recovery was better than anyone thought possible.
"He's always smiling now," said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Jason Morton. "He's always making people laugh and bringing a positive vibe to every room he walks in."
McLaughlin plans to take this event in stride and use it as a tool not just to improve his own life, but others as well.
"There's a reason I survived," said McLaughlin. "I plan on living the life I'm so fortunate to still have to the fullest of my capabilities."
Truman operated in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations in international waters around the globe.
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