Firefighter returns to duty from coma recovery

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) An Omaha firefighter made his return, Thursday, after a life-changing accident just eight months ago.

For Tom Bartek it's been a long but rewarding journey. "Relief and excitement," said Bartek. "It's been a very surreal day.”

Bartek was a firefighter with the Papillion Fire Department for three years. He joined Omaha fire crew over 16 years ago.

Nineteen years of saving lives - eight months ago, Thursday, he nearly lost his own.

"Some of the doctors said they didn't know if I was going to make it,” Bartek said.

The fireman donned a cowboy hat and began riding bulls at the rodeo to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy in 2013.

At last year's Sarpy County Fair, Bartek was thrown off a bull and sustained a brain injury.

He laid lifeless in a coma. His family clinging to hope.

"They saw me with tubes down my throat and hooked up to machines,” said Bartek.

He regained consciousness a week later and was transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.

He underwent an eight-week transition to get back to work in boots and a red helmet and, once again, be an active husband and father of two.

"Just to be able to walk and talk and swallow food again and play with my kids and went horseback riding so that was nice to be on an animal that wasn't trying to buck me off so that was good,” said Bartek.

Bartek is back in blue with his brothers and sisters of Engine 31.

Once again ready to answer the call.

"Every day is a gift. That's the bottom line. It's been a good journey and I'm glad that the destination has been reached."