Bill O'Donnell 1990

Great Comebacks® Award Recipient - United States

Since receiving the Great Comebacks® Award in 1990, Bill O’Donnell has been very busy: he graduated college, became a husband and father as well as a local hero and TV game show contestant.


Bill continues to prove, every day, that having an ostomy does not mean living a life with limitations!

After his diagnosis of Crohn’s disease in 1987 and ileostomy surgery three years later, Bill forged ahead in his career and personal life. As a national park ranger, Bill has worked at eight different parks, including Yellowstone and Everglades National Park as well as Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, where he battled forest fires among his many other duties. At his current post as a District Ranger in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri, Bill supervises other rangers, manages three visitor centers and teaches children – who know him better as “Ranger Bill” – about the environment. He has also served as a volunteer medical First Responder for the past 10 years, and even received a Special Achievement Award in 1999 for his daring rescue of an injured girl who was near a burning car.

“If I can help someone, I absolutely will,” said Bill. “I know how scary going through ostomy surgery can be, and for me, getting the message out that having an ostomy will not limit your life is important.”

Bill has been just as busy in his personal life. In the late 90’s, he decided to return to school to earn his undergraduate degree. Through online courses with Western Illinois University, he earned a bachelor’s degree in History in 2000. Bill, a die-hard trivia buff, then decided to try his hand at television game shows. In 2001, he earned a spot on Jeopardy where Lady Luck smiled on him as he won two games, came in second in a third, won a monetary prize and a trip to Aruba! Struck by game show fever, he landed on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2005, but his luck did not pay off this time, and he was sent home minus the Million but with a big grin and great memories.

“I know how scary going through ostomy surgery can be, and for me, getting the message out that having an ostomy will not limit your life is important.”

Bill, 48, lives in Eminence, MO with his wife of 16 years, Julie, and 12 year old son Paul. He enjoys hiking, camping, canoeing, keeping bees and reaching out to other ostomates. “If I can help someone, I absolutely will,” said Bill. “I know how scary going through ostomy surgery can be, and for me, getting the message out that having an ostomy will not limit your life is important.”

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