This is a story of incredible heartbreak and hope; of not only a tragic accident, but of a remarkable recovery; of a mother’s love so strong that she never took no for an answer in her quest to build her son a home where he can live independently. Take five minutes and read the entire story. You won’t believe what happens. (*Parts of this story from Nick Ferraro of the Pioneer Press and Michelle Theriault Boots of the Anchorage Daily News)
Zack Mohs’ father can’t scour the image from his mind: his son left on Arctic Boulevard on a rainy Anchorage night, half-crushed by a hit-and-run driver, his foot nearly severed.
“They ran over him like he was hamburger meat,” said Jeffrey Mohs in September 2012 when his 26-year-old son (now 28) was in the critical-care unit.
The guy who lived to skateboard had his left leg amputated above the knee. He had a traumatic brain injury, including bleeding on his brain, and fractured vertebrae. His elbow was shattered and both legs were broken. His left foot was severed. He had a fractured shoulder and broken ribs.
“The doctors gave me no hope he would ever wake up, walk again or even survive,” said Cheryl Young, Zack’s mother of South St. Paul.
Ken Krasselt said he was not the first person to see Mohs lying in the street. He was just the first to stop.
“I caught a glimpse of a nude body,” Krasselt recalled. “His clothes were stripped off, not a stitch on him. I screeched to a stop … blocked the street. I can’t imagine why no one stopped.”
What the 85-year-old World War II veteran did next saved Mohs’ life, his family says.
Krasselt ran to Mohs and discovered he was still alive but in “horrific” shape. His left foot was ripped off, about 30 feet down the street. Blood pooled on the concrete.
“I ran back over to the truck and grabbed a blanket. I always carry a blanket and a tarp, because it’s Alaska,” Krasselt said.
He told his friend to call 911 while he covered Mohs. Krasselt said he took off his belt and yelled for someone to find a tow strap, which they used for another tourniquet before paramedics arrived on the scene.
Krasselt returned to the hospital every day. “I just kind of adopted the family,” said Krasselt, who had lived in southern Minnesota as a kid.
A Mother’s Love
After the accident, Cheryl lost her accounting job in Minneapolis to be by Zack’s side. His sister, Molly Miller, dropped out of college. His other sister, Amanda Novotny, took time away from her banking job. Mohs emerged from a coma on the 30th day, with his mother and sister Molly at his side.
Cheryl not only began to tend to Zack’s injuries but prepare for his future. Despite what the doctors were telling her, she believed that Zack would walk again and be able to live an independent life. But for that to happen, he’d need a special home outfitted for someone disabled, and she’d need to raise a lot of money to pay for it. She earned a modest living before the accident, and but now she and Zack had no income. The hit-and-run driver had no car insurance, and Zack had no medical insurance. There was no big payout. How was Cheryl going to pay for both of them, medical expenses, and an independent home for Zack?
Throughout 2013, Zack was in physical therapy making slow but steady improvements. He got a prosthetic leg. Then he learned to stand, then take a step, then two steps. He got water therapy once a week and was living at the Courage Center. Meanwhile, Cheryl became a dog with a sock, not letting go of her dream that Zack could live a normal life in a normal house. She asked for help everywhere, held pizza fundraisers, and asked builders for help. She says that for every 100 no’s there were one or two yes’s that restored her faith in humanity.
As if Zack’s and Cheryl struggles weren’t enough, life was about to floor them once more. In the middle of 2013, Cheryl was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She had emergency surgery to remove part of her kidney. Cheryl not only had to face her own mortality, but struggle with who would take care of Zack if she died? Who would see the project through? Luckily, in the fall of 2013, doctors told her they think they got it all. She would live and could go back to fundraising.
Purchasing the lot and securing permits took much longer than anticipated. The original foundation caved in after a rainstorm and had to be rebuilt and money was running out fast.
Through the Builders Association of the Twin Cities (BATC), Cheryl met Jon of JK Anderson Builders. While it made no financial sense to help Cheryl, his heart couldn’t say no. It would mean not getting paid himself and searching for in-kind donations of materials. It was going to be a labor of love, but that is what God was telling him to do.
Even though Cheryl didn’t have the money yet, Jon took over the project. The work has been consistent, and during the polar vortex of January 2014, John and his crew were putting on the new roof.
The Final Push
Support has come in from a number of places – the bar where Zack worked in Alaska, Heggie’s Pizza Fundraiser, and a VFW benefit put on by Zack’s family in South St. Paul. When the community came together, it was awe-inspiring. Through Cheryl’s tenacity and the community’s support, she has raised $100,000 towards Zack’s $220,000 house. It’s modest, just over 2000 square feet. They had to cut down on their plans to make it more affordable. But it’s specifically outfitted for someone in a wheelchair, and its a world away from the group home he’s living in currently.
Thanks to the generosity of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities (BATC) Foundation, we only have to raise half the money. BATC will match every dollar raised one-for-one. We raise $60,000, and BATC puts in $60,000. It’s an incredible offer for a family that absolutely needs a break.
Your Big Chance
If you have ever wished for a miracle to happen to you, this is your chance, because the best way to attract generosity is to be generous; the best way to reap kindness is to be kind. Use the links above to share this story with others. Use the form below to help Zack move in. And sometime in the near future, when winter turns to spring, join us for our own version of Extreme Home Makeover as we unveil this beautiful house that you made happen for Zack.
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