A local soldier who was severely wounded in combat in Afghanistan returned home to Jacksonville on Friday morning.
Ryan Timoney, 28, received a hero's welcome home as a surprise community event was held to honor the soldier and his sacrifice.
"To come back and kind of be your old self and then see all this, it was fantastic. It's really wonderful," Timoney said.
Timoney has been through several surgeries, in and out of hospitals, and through intensive therapy for more than a year.
On May 20, 2012, Greg and Diane Timoney got the call that their son, Army First Lieutenant Ryan Timoney, was severely injured from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Five days later, they were on an airplane, flying to see him at Walter Reed Medical Center.
"He was in a coma clinging to life barely," Diane Timoney said. "The doctors told us that there wasn’t much chance he would survive and if he did survive there wasn’t much chance he would have any kind of a life."
Ryan took ball bearings from the explosion to his brain and back. His tibia was shattered and he had severe internal injuries.
"He had to have a craniectomy to remove half of his skull to relieve the swelling in his brain, otherwise he would’ve died from the pressure," Diane said.
That was just one of about 25 surgeries Ryan has had over the last year. Between them all, he's made fantastic progress in his recovery. His speech is back to normal, he's learned to read again, and his mom says his personality is exactly the same.
Ryan has also found time to squeeze in a wedding. He married the love of his life, Kelby, who hasn't left his side since the day he was injured. His mom believes that is the reason he pulled through.
"Kelby was a beautiful bride, Ryan was so handsome in his uniform with all his medals and he was able to stand and to say his vows there on the beach and it was a beautiful, beautiful day," Diane said.
With a rod and pins put in just weeks before to repair his shattered leg, Ryan was standing. But just 10 days after that it blew up with infection, and in April, doctors had to amputate his leg below the knee.
But Ryan bounced back from that surgery, too. Two months later, he rode a hand cycle in a five-mile race in New York City.
Between that and more than two dozen surgeries, trips back and forth to hospitals in Tampa and Maryland, Ryan has only made it home for a couple quick trips. Friday morning, he returned to Jacksonville for 10 days and was greeted with a huge hero's welcome.
The St. Michael's Soldiers, a support group of 150 volunteers, planned a surprise procession, and law enforcement escorted Ryan from Orange Park to his parents' home in Julington Creek.
"We can’t let them feel like they’re forgotten," Kathy Signoreli, founder and president of St. Michael's Soldiers. "We certainly can’t let them believe that their sacrifices were for nothing. They go over there, they leave their families, they leave their friends they leave their normal way of life to protect us."
Ryan and his wife landed at Jacksonville International Airport at 9:30 a.m., then went to Field's Cadillac, where they got into a convertible the dealership supplied. They were escorted by the Florida Highway Patrol down Interstate 295 to Old St. Augustine Road, then to Mandarin at Catholic Corners.
People lined the sidewalks on Old St. Augustine Road and down Loretto Road and San Jose Boulevard, and into his parents' neighborhood off Durbin Creek Road.
The Patriot Guard Riders were in the neighborhood with their five-foot flags, and bikers from various groups joined the procession.
"I want them to know that I really do appreciate their support cause there are a lot of guys from Vietnam that came back to completely not this," Ryan Timoney said.
He is still active duty. He has at least one more surgery to go in which doctors need to remove a ball bearing from his head. It already passed through his brain and is lodged into the back of his neck. He has another one sitting in his back next to his spine, but thankfully it never hit the spine.
Surgeons believe they can remove both in one surgery.