17 years ago, 'Jeopardy!' champion Bill O’Donnell made one of his dreams come true. “I won two games and came in second in the third game. My downfall was that I don't watch much "entertainment" and every question that slipped me up was about the Oscars, soap operas and other showbiz stuff.” He went home with $28,700 and a trip to Aruba — not bad for a few days’ work! Plus, Bill might just be the first-ever ostomate who competed in Jeopardy!'s history. “It’s a great experience,” he wrote on the contestant’s blog, “a chance to meet great people and show off what you know.”
When his winning streak ended, Bill left Los Angeles and headed back home to Missouri. He said, “My appearance didn’t air until December, but we taped in September 2001. I flew home on 9/10. The next day was the 9/11 tragedy.” He said there was a feeling of disbelief on that tragic morning. “I was at work when I heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. I figured it was an accident. AOL (remember AOL?) ran a story about a bomber that had hit the Empire State Building during World War 2, just a freak accident. I had been in the restroom (because you know… ostomy) and was heading back to our staff meeting when I walked by the computer room, one of two TVs in the building, just as the second plane hit. Saw it live. That's when I knew it wasn't an accident. My first thought was simply, "why do they hate us so much?" I spend a lot of time-consuming news and reading non-fiction (Jeopardy guy you know) so I guess I wasn't really surprised — it was just a matter of time before they hit us big time (cheerful guy, aren't I?).”
Bill was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 1987 and had ileostomy surgery three years later. “Before my surgery, I didn’t have the confidence to try out for Jeopardy. But an ostomy gave me the courage to give it a shot.” He also appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2005, kiddingly telling OC, “I lost big time. A trip to NYC with my wife and son cost $2,000. I only won $1,000, so what I really got was a half-priced trip to New York!”
Since being retired from a 30-year career as a National Park ranger, Bill spends most of his time working as a volunteer member of the Shannon County First Responders and promoting Youth Rally, a summer camp for kids living with bowel or bladder dysfunction. He told me+ community, “If I can help someone, I absolutely will. I know how scary going through ostomy surgery can be, so getting the message out that having an ostomy will not limit your life is important. The great thing about Youth Rally is that these kids don’t feel different when they’re at camp. They just focus on being kids.”
Learn how you can help Bill fundraise for Youth Rally summer camp.