Sometimes it takes a sad event to realize there are still good people in the world, and there’s no better example than the local community rallying around a Cole Camp couple in a time of need.
Paul and Ann Luetjen have received an “overwhelming” outpouring of community support after Paul was seriously injured in a three-vehicle accident Sept. 15 on U.S. Highway 65 at Smasal Road. Paul was taken by Life Flight to University Hospital in Columbia, where he spent nine weeks in the trauma unit until his celebrated return home last week.
Paul’s vehicle was struck head-on when another driver was traveling north on the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 65. He spent five weeks in a medically-induced coma and about six weeks in ICU, according to Ann. He suffered a broken right ankle and hip and several ribs and had emergency surgery because his spleen began bleeding, according to his sister, Marty Blaylock. He was put on a ventilator, had blood transfusions and developed pneumonia. Paul also required dialysis and had a tracheotomy. After three weeks of physical therapy, he was finally well enough to start physical and occupational therapy at home in Cole Camp.
The entire nine weeks Paul was in the hospital, Ann remained by his side.
“Somebody had to be his voice,” Ann said by phone Wednesday afternoon. “He couldn’t talk, he was in a medically-induced coma. It was hard. We have to do what you have to do, but it was hard.”
During a visit from Paul’s sisters, Ann mentioned needing to contact the VA or someone to have a ramp installed at their house for when Paul returned home, as all the entrances into their home had stairs.
That one little conversation was all it took.
Blaylock said that through social media and word of mouth, she and her sisters and the Luetjen’s son reached out to friends, family and local businesses. The results was an outpouring of donations, both monetary and materials, to put in a new sidewalk and ramp at their home.
“I personally had people that have never met my brother and just had heard about the accident and need bring donations,” Blaylock said via email. “I had (an) envelope from a ladies church group left anonymously where I work signed ‘12 ladies that care’ and had $300 donated.”
Over the weekend of Oct. 29-30, roughly 25 people came to the Luetjen’s home to construct the sidewalk and ramp and do yard-work. Volunteers included family members, neighbors and friends, plus some of Paul’s coworkers from W-K Chevrolet in Sedalia, Paul’s classmates, and Cole Camp American Legion members.
“Paul is an outdoors person so he had things he wanted to get done himself. He gardens so they cleaned up the garden, dug up the rest of the potatoes, stuff like that. The yard was tilled by another neighbor,” Ann said. “They put in a complete ramp in the front with a deck attached to it — it’s awesome looking. In the house our son had moved furniture around so (Paul) could get a wheelchair through, set up the front bedroom with a hospital bed.
“I can’t say enough to the neighbors and friends. Cards, we got so many cards from the community, well wishes, donations, poured the sidewalk, trimmed the trees. Things we were going to get done and didn’t get done, they did it.”
Blaylock said all of the expenses were covered by donations. The couple was also supported by a prayer chain that reached Missouri, Colorado, Texas and Illinois.
“The thoughts, generosity and prayers and genuine caring we have received has reassured us that people still care,” she said.
Ann works as a school nurse in Warsaw through the Benton County Health Department, and her coworkers showed support too.
“There were people stepping up to the plate where I work,” she said. “… Somebody’s got to take over my job, and then the support and even donations of money coming from the school and health department in Benton County, that was awesome in itself. People donated sick time so I could stay at the hospital.”
Ann said Paul has been grateful for all the support, but he still has one request — he wants to find the man who provided a little bit of comfort during the accident while Paul was still alert.
“Paul said there was a gentleman who stood by his truck during his accident,” Ann said. “He talked to him and kept him calm while they were trying to get him out of the truck. He would love to know his name to thank him for keeping him so calm.”
Ann said she and Paul “couldn’t ask for a better support system.”
“It’s hard to put into words (what it means to us), we just appreciate it all. It just overwhelmed us, everything that was done,” she said. “We know it was done in a caring and loving way. You never know until hard times like this how your friends and family and neighbors come out of the woodwork to help. … I can’t say enough. Good has come out of a bad situation.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.