Oklahoma County sheriff's major to be honored for courage after life-changing injury

John Waldenville one of three to receive Jim Thorpe Courage Award on Saturday. Longtime law enforcement officer was shot in the face during robbery at Cattlemen's Steakhouse in 2011.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Modified: August 24, 2012 at 8:32 pm •  Published: August 25, 2012
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One step at a time, John Waldenville is trying to put his life back together.

Saturday, the former Oklahoma County sheriff's major, who was shot in the head during a 2011 robbery at Cattlemen's Steakhouse in Oklahoma City, will mark another milestone in his recovery with a walk across the stage at the 2012 Jim Thorpe Courage Awards.

The 61-year-old attributed his success over the past year to his wife, Marjorie, and to his faith in God.

“There's a reason for me to be here,” he said. “Really, if anything I just hope someday that I can be an advocate for others. You just don't do it all by yourself.”

May 21, 2011, just after midnight, Waldenville was ambushed while carrying the nightly deposit from the restaurant where he worked as a security guard to the bank around the corner. The 25-year law enforcement veteran didn't have time to react or plead his case before the gun went off. The bullet went in just above his right eye, severing his optic nerve, and through his ear before shattering his jaw and settling in his jowls.

The bleeding and swelling caused so much trauma to his brain he has spent the past year just learning how to function again.

“He's come so far. When he came here he wouldn't know where to go for weeks; he would be lost,” said Marjorie Waldenville, watching as her husband made his way through a cognitive rehab session at the outpatient program at Integris Baptist Medical Center. “But there's so much that's unknown still. He sees so many doctors it's kind of a matter of wait and see.”

Her husband of 15 years — a former high school football player and member of the Oklahoma County SWAT team — spent five weeks at OU Medical Center and another month undergoing inpatient treatment at Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Hospital.

From basic physical therapy — learning to walk with a walker — to aquatic and now occupational therapy, he gets by now with only minor restrictions.

In his right eye socket is a prosthetic, and he walks with a cane, but John Waldenville thinks and talks just like he used to. He no longer can attend his beloved OU football games, but he's found solace in simple activities like feeding the ducks at the hospital pond.

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