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July 29, 2014

Brothers-in-arms lend helping hand to injured friend

Benefit to help former Park public safety officer with spinal injury

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Brothers-in-arms lend helping hand to injured friend
Still recovering at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Illinois, Keith Andersen — with his wife, Cindy, at his side — is said to be overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support from the Grosse Pointe community after his accident.
This photo shows the damage to Keith Andersen’s truck after his vehicle rolled over several times and caught fire.
 

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — For roughly two decades, local residents could count on Keith Andersen to help them in an emergency.

Now, though, the former Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety officer; emergency medical technician; and Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe X-ray technician could use some help himself. On June 21, while driving home from work down a country road outside of Springfield, Illinois, the 48-year-old Andersen was in a devastating rollover accident that left him a quadriplegic.

Facing mounting medical bills and the possibility that he may never be able to walk — or work — again, Andersen’s brethren in the Fraternal Order of Police Grosse Pointe Lodge 102 are inviting the community to a corn roast fundraiser for Andersen. The event will take place from 5:30-9:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at Pier Park in Grosse Pointe Farms and is open to the public. A $10 donation at the door is requested, and attendees will be able to win a wide range of items donated for silent auctions and a raffle, including sports memorabilia, bikes, tickets to Detroit Lions and Tigers games, and dinner at Marais.

“He helped (other) people,” said Grosse Pointe City Public Safety Officer Joseph Adams, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Grosse Pointe Lodge 102. “It’s our turn to help him back.”

Adams and other organizers of the fundraiser say Andersen’s impact on the community can be seen in the outpouring of support from local businesses and residents. Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety Officer Ryan Milroth, vice president of the FOP lodge, called Andersen a “good friend” as well as a colleague; they’ve known each other for the last 15 years.

“He’d do anything for you,” Milroth said of Andersen, who recently offered Milroth use of a generator at Andersen’s unsold Park home when Milroth lost power.

After 17 years with the Park Public Safety Department, Andersen took an early retirement in February to move to Springfield with his wife, Cindy, and two of their three young adult daughters to care for his wife’s aging and ill parents. Andersen took a job as an X-ray technician at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield and was making the 30-minute drive home to Jacksonville after the midnight shift when he briefly fell asleep behind the wheel, said his older brother, Scott Andersen. Keith Andersen’s truck veered to the right and he awoke as it hit the gravel, but he overcorrected.

Photos of Andersen’s badly damaged truck tell just part of the story. Scott Andersen said his brother’s truck hit the embankment of a ditch and flipped over some three to four times before coming to a rest upside-down near a cornfield and bursting into flames. A farmer who was working in those fields that morning happened to see smoke in the distance and investigated, and when he found the truck on fire, Scott Andersen said the farmer used an extinguisher to try to put it out. A nurse running late for her hospital shift happened upon the accident scene around the same time, and by the way Keith Andersen was gurgling, she knew he had a spinal injury and would need to be airlifted to the nearest hospital.

Emergency responders opened the truck cabin with air bags in order to remove Keith Andersen and take him by helicopter to the trauma center at Springfield Memorial Medical Center, next door to the hospital where Andersen worked.

The Life Flight by helicopter alone cost about $27,000, Adams said, and it’s not covered by health insurance. Andersen also will need a new vehicle that can accommodate a wheelchair, he said.

“He’s going to have (medical) bills for the rest of his life,” Adams said. “We’re going to try to get him started (financially).”

Keith and Cindy Andersen are parents to three daughters — Loren, Daniele “Dani” and Carrie — and they’re also grandparents to 4-year-old Chase, Daniele’s son. Scott Andersen said Dani and Carrie plan to stay behind in Springfield to take care of their grandparents, but Cindy and Keith will be returning soon to Michigan, where they have a bigger support network of family and friends.

Adams said Roseville Church of Christ — Andersen’s church — is giving him a home it owned across the street from the church so that he’ll be close to medical facilities and family in Michigan. But the house will need to be renovated to become handicap-accessible, and Adams said they were still looking for donations of labor and materials to accomplish that task.

“Keith is a very proud guy, and he is overwhelmed by the outpouring of support,” Scott Andersen said. “He can’t even talk to his police brothers without getting (emotional).”

Those who know Andersen describe him as kind and considerate, and someone who always put the needs of others ahead of his own.

Andersen was one of the first Park officers Adams said he met when he started working for the City 14 years ago. He called Andersen “just an all-out caring guy” who was always looking for ways to help others.

“I don’t think he had a mean bone in his body,” Adams said. “He was always one to back you up. He was never one to complain. He cared about his job. He cared about the people he worked with.”

Becoming a public safety officer was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Keith Andersen, his brother said. Their father, Larry Andersen, of Warren, is a retired Detroit Police officer.

“He always wanted to follow in our father’s footsteps,” Scott Andersen said.

But even after he joined the force, Andersen said his brother, who lived for years in the Park, continued to work part-time at Beaumont as an X-ray technician, a job he held for about 21 years.

For now, his prognosis is unclear. Scott Andersen said his brother has some sensation in his legs, arms and hands, but didn’t have movement at press time. Because each spinal cord injury is unique, he said doctors were hopeful but couldn’t predict how much mobility Keith Andersen might regain. He was slated to be moved to a rehabilitation center Aug. 5.

For someone who loved working on computers and tinkering around the house, Keith Andersen’s lack of mobility is especially difficult, Scott Andersen said. Milroth said his friend had such a powerful handshake, he was given the nickname “Crusher.” But Scott Andersen also noted that his brother is a man of deep faith, and that faith is something that’s helping to sustain him and his family now.

“He’s going to fight; he’s a fighter,” Milroth said.

Anyone interested in donating additional items for the silent auctions or raffle can contact Adams at (313) 886-3200, ext. 2215, or via email at psoadams@gmail.com. Anyone wishing to donate materials or volunteer their time to make Andersen’s new home handicapped-accessible can also contact Adams. Financial donations are being accepted via an online campaign at www.gofundme.com/az0f0s.

Pier Park is located at the foot of Moross and Lake Shore, at 350 Lake Shore Road, on Lake St. Clair. For more about the corn roast, contact Adams or visit www.fop102.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.