Archive for Wednesday, February 16, 2005

One of ours

Community pulls together to provide support for Albert family

February 16, 2005

In the four weeks since Pat Albert suffered a mid-brain hemorrhage, the community has rallied around him.

"Pat has touched a lot of lives in a lot of good ways," said Kathie Riddle, whose daughter Amie is on the Tonganoxie Braves softball team that Albert coaches. "Now it's our turn to return the favor to him."

Sandra Benedict, Albert's sister-in-law, said that on the morning of Jan. 14, Albert drove to Tonganoxie High School where he teaches automotive mechanics. It seemed a fairly ordinary school day. With his students, he sat in on a speech by U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, then taught the rest of his classes. It's likely that no one, including Albert, would have guessed that by day's end he'd be lying in a bed in the intensive care unit at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan.

Of course, his family, including Albert's wife, Marcia, and their 15-year-old daughter, Amanda, were at his bedside. Other family members, friends, Tonganoxie school district faculty members and administrators, kids Albert has coached -- they showed up as well.

And then came the crew from the Tonganoxie Fire Department.

Since 1999, Albert has been a Tonganoxie firefighter, said fire chief Dave Bennett.

Around the clock, firefighters stayed with the 55-year-old Albert and his family.
"When he was at KU, we pretty much stayed with him at the hospital for the first seven or eight days," Bennett said. "We were kind of taking shifts. Once he got stabilized there and started coming round a little bit, we kind of backed off, and made sure somebody was getting up there at least every day."
Bennett said this was to be expected.
"It's just a typical firefighter mentality," Bennett said, noting Albert is the fire department's safety officer. "We're not leaving nobody behind, you know, it's a brotherhood down here and we're not going to leave one of ours out there on their own in that kind of situation."

Up and down
When Albert's condition improved, he was moved to the rehab wing of Lawrence Memorial Hospital where he appeared to be making progress.
But on Sunday morning, as his daughter sat in church, Albert's heart stopped beating. He was resuscitated and transferred to intensive care. For the next two days, his breathing was done by a respirator, or ventilator.
"They're going to try and wean him off the respirator today," Benedict said Tuesday morning. "... Hopefully, things will be better. We've kind of been going on a little roller coaster ride. We just appreciate everybody's continued prayers and support."
School steps in
At Monday's school board meeting, the Rev. Rick Lamb, who is a board member, gave an update on Albert's condition, as well as on several other school staff members who have medical concerns.
"We need to remember that these are people with lives and needs and concerns and we appreciate them," he said. "Our hearts go out to them. They're good people just trying to make a living and raise their kids and do the best they can. It's rough on them."
Lamb praised the district especially for how teachers and administrators have united to help the Albert family. In particular, he noted school district employees have been donating unused sick days.
Each year a teacher is given eight or nine sick days, said Tatia Shelton, THS principal. Unused sick days are accumulated.
"So, if you're a healthy person, after a couple of years you could have possibly 25 to 30 sick days," Shelton said.
Because Albert had only taught at the school for a couple of years, he hadn't accumulated many days.
"We sent out a districtwide e-mail to all the staff and asked if anybody would be willing to voluntarily donate sick days," Shelton said. "We hope we can get enough days to get him through the end of the year."
Then, after six months, a KPER's retirement system would kick in with disability, if needed, she added.
Benedict said the family has been surprised by the outpouring.
"They've donated eight or nine weeks of sick leave, it's amazing," Benedict said.
And, Shelton said, high school faculty and staff collected donations to give the Alberts a gift certificate for groceries.
Other's have helped as well, Shelton said, noting firefighters had given the family gift certificates to fast-food restaurants located near the hospitals, and the junior high staff had taken meals to the hospital.
"I think there has just been a really great outpouring of support by all the staff and the community in general," Shelton said.

Just a good guy
Tonganoxie Junior High School principal Steve Woolf had a ready description of Albert.
"He's an outgoing, loving guy who would do anything for you, and has," Woolf said.
Albert has long been a positive influence on the community, Woolf said.
He's served on Tonganoxie's city council and he's a past president of the Tonganoxie Chamber of Commerce.
And then there's his work with the youth in the community.
"He's good with kids, he genuinely loves people," Woolf said. "Any time we have someone that loves people that much, and they're not with us right now -- that leaves a vacuum. ... Pat was just so involved in so many aspects of the community. With him not being in town right now it actually leaves a void."
Tonganoxie school Superintendent Richard Erickson and his wife, Marci, have made numerous trips to the hospital to see the Alberts. Their daughter, Ann, and Amanda are friends. The families are acquainted through the school, as well.
"We're just praying that he'll continue to progress and that's really what we're hoping and praying for right now," Erickson said. "He's a wonderful man, he's a great teacher. Our prayers and thoughts are with him and his family and we're trying to help him in any way we can."

Loyal fans
Among those who've stepped up to the plate are members of the Tonganoxie Braves softball team, and their families. For the past five years, Albert has coached the team. He also has coached freshman basketball at THS.
Carol Lohman's daughter, Ashlee, is a member of the Braves team. As a group, the team has focused on trying to help.
"If Amanda needs anything, or Marcia, somebody's there to help them out," Lohman said.
Lohman's husband, who coaches the ninth-grade girls basketball team, gives Amanda rides to practice.
It's little payback for all the work Albert has done, she said.
"We've appreciated it so much," Lohman said. "This will be our sixth season, it was just thrilling last summer when they won the nationals. He put a lot of time and effort into that -- not just for Amanda, but for the other girls, too."
Riddle, whose daughter is also on the team, said friends have taken their efforts one step further.
Because Marcia Albert doesn't drive, friends have volunteered to help Amanda get her learner's permit.
The Braves have found other ways to help their coach.
"The girls on the softball team, early on when he was first in the hospital, organized a big prayer meeting at the school by the flag pole before school started," Riddle said. "A lot of people, students and even parents, came."
And the team has helped with fund drives at the grade school, made visits to the hospital and done countless other good deeds.
"You want to do what you can to help, but you don't want to be in the way, either," Riddle said. "We just love Amanda and Marcia and hope for the best for them -- and keep saying our prayers."
And of course, everyone who knows the Albert family knows what a close team Amanda and her father have always been.
Amanda's aunt, Sandra Benedict, summed up the father-daughter relationship: "She says he's her best friend, and it's mutual."

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