LEXINGTON, Ky. – An overachieving central Kentucky construction developer is now facing the challenge of his life – walking again.
Doug Wilburn, 45, president of Lexington-based D.W. Wilburn Inc., was left a Paraplegic after a November accident in which his motorcycle was hit by a pickup. His girlfriend, Melissa “Missy” New, the mother of his 20-month-old son, Jacob, was killed.
Dr. Susan McDowell, who treats Wilburn, said she has never seen anyone who’s suffered an injury like his walk again.
Wilburn is determined to prove her wrong.
“I intend to walk again. I expect to and I intend to,” said Wilburn.
He’s used to overcoming tough odds.
A Pulaski County farm boy with only a high-school education, he now oversees hundreds of millions of dollars in building projects at any given time.
His current undertakings include Lexington’s new Bryan Station High School and the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center in Pikeville.
Some would say that what Wilburn has done is remarkable. In fact, he is surprised by it himself.
“It’s amazing to me,” he says.
At age 17, Wilburn was married, had a baby, and was living with his parents. He usually had only a few dollars in his pocket, he said.
He was a self-proclaimed “mediocre” student at Pulaski County High School, where he played basketball. After high school, Wilburn went to work for Austin Harp Masonry in Lexington.
Wilburn and his brother Tony, who has a degree in accounting from Cumberland College, eventually started a lawn-care company. They later went into the masonry business, establishing D.L. Wilburn Masonry of Somerset. The general contracting company was established in 1986.
The construction company started out doing small commercial projects and worked its way up to larger ones. The company built the first Wal-Marts in Louisville and in Ohio.
The brothers plowed their profits back into their businesses and eventually bought Cumberland Security Bank of Somerset, which had given them the loans. Tony Wilburn is president of the bank.
In addition to their other ventures, the Wilburn brothers are part-owners of Fiberglass Concepts in Somerset, which supplies specialty items to houseboat factories in Somerset, Monticello, Indiana and the western United States.
On Nov. 7, Wilburn was riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle when a pickup driven by Jesse T. Carter, 17, of Somerset hit him about a mile from Wilburn’s home in Pulaski County. Missy New, 34, Wilburn’s passenger and companion of five years, was killed instantly. Carter was not injured.
Wilburn was flown to UK Hospital with a severely damaged pancreas, a lacerated spleen, fractured pelvis, multiple rib and sternal fractures, two fractured Vertebrae and spinal cord trauma.
Tony Wilburn stepped in to handle the day-to-day operation of the contracting business, which employs just under 200. Family members took care of the baby.
Doug Wilburn spent two weeks at UK Hospital, where he underwent three surgeries. During that time, he was in a drug-induced coma. Two days after he awoke from the coma, he was on the telephone, telling his brother not to subcontract out a particularly tough concrete job.
“It made our day because it meant that he still had that spirit,” Tony Wilburn said.
After he left the hospital, Doug Wilburn spent three weeks in therapy at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital. He later returned for more therapy but, after 17 days, he told health-care professionals there that they weren’t working him hard enough and left, said his sister, Mary Lynn Stout.
By late December, between his stints at Cardinal Hill, he was back at his Lexington office for a few hours a week. Now, he works five or six hours a day, and occasionally visits job sites.
Doctors have told Wilburn his chances of walking again are slim. But he hasn’t let that assessment stop him from trying.
“I don’t have to run. I don’t have to jump. But I want to walk,” he said.
And if anybody can walk again after such devastating injuries, it’s Doug Wilburn, his friends say.
“I’ve known Doug for 20-plus years. If anybody can beat something like this tragedy and walk again, he will. He’s got that much will power and desire,” said Rodney Parsons Jr., president of Equipment Sales & Rentals in Lexington.
“There’s no way Doug Wilburn will lay down. There’s no way. He’s a fighter,” said Lonnie Eldridge, a D.W. Wilburn superintendent. “I believe he will walk.”
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader,