KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Nine months after a deadly car accident in Las Vegas, Nevada, a Kansas City, Kansas, man has returned home, and was welcomed back by dozens of family, friends and neighbors.
“We missed him so much, and we’re happy that he’s home,” Carla Ladish, who organized Tom Jochen’s homecoming said.
Jochen hasn’t been home since he and seven others were on a Las Vegas trip last November.
“We got hit by a drunk driver,” Ladish said.
While Jochen is now a quadriplegic, the crash took the life of Gina Artzer.
“[He’s] In a wheelchair, so he’s paralyzed from the neck down,” Ladish said. “He has movement in his left arm, he has a lot of work to do.
Nine months later, Jochen got on a plane for Kansas City.
“It’s bittersweet, we love that Tom is coming home, but I’m sad that Gina is not coming home,” Ladish said.
The Prairie Oaks subdivision in KCK has been helping Jochen start a new chapter.
“They moved into a new ranch, and as you can see, [it’s] being remodeled,” Michelle Hereford said. “A lot of donations from the community, people donating time and construction efforts to get the house ready for him.
New neighbors, who haven’t met Jochen, have helped his family too.
“Giving him baseballs, taking them tomatoes, lent a drill and talked to them,” Herschel McWilliams III said. “Doing anything I can do for them.”
Just before 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, the Jochen’s came home with a fire and police escort, and dozens lining their street with signs, balloons and custom-made t-shirts emblazoned with “JOCHEN STRONG.”
“Absolutely blown away that so many people would show up on a random Tuesday afternoon to support someone like me,” Jochen said.
Now, his wife Jody, and kids Chloe and Carson, face a new normal.
“We still have to get him a van, because we’re not a family that sits still,” Jody said.
Tom has a long road ahead of him, but on this Tuesday afternoon, he felt the warmth and love of neighbors new and old.
“Piper Strong, we love and support everyone in the community,” Hereford said.
Strength in numbers, for the man they call the Piper Optimist.
“He’s the one who never gives up hope and never has worry in our family,” Jody said.
Jochen said despite the circumanstances, he’ll remain optimistic.
“My optimism will remain for the next, however long I live, 40-50 years, who knows,” he said. “The glass is always half full.”
A CaringBridge page has been providing updates on Tom’s progress, and can be viewed here.
If you’d like to donate to assist the Jochen’s with upcoming expenses, that GoFundMe is available here.
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