Roger Marolt: Roger This | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

My best friend Jeff is a fighter. So is his wife, Susan. I don’t mean that in the traditional sense of rolled-up sleeves and bare-knuckle brawling, although they would resort to this in the greatest battle they will ever face in their lives, if they could.

The problem is that they are literally battered to the point where they have little left to use against a foe that is savage, relentless and does not fight fair. It has knocked them down, beaten them bloody and senseless, and continues to kick them mercilessly as they lie in defenseless agony. They have picked themselves up again and again, but this dirty bastard flattens them each time, heedless of the suffering it inflicts with its hammering blows. They didn’t pick this one-sided fight. It found them.

Jeff and Susan were slammed into, head-on, by a drunk driver a mile from their home in Basalt one evening last May after they were returning home from a Rockies baseball game in Denver. Their lives turned as quickly as the oncoming car that swerved into them so abruptly that they didn’t even have time to hit the brakes.

Early that spring morning I got a call from Aspen Valley Hospital as they tried to locate Jeff’s next of kin. They didn’t give me any details, but I knew it was bad. Susan had been transported to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs so as not to spread the trauma teams at either hospital too thin. So massive were the injuries that they needed all medical personnel available at both facilities. That moment still doesn’t seem real to me.

A small group of Jeff’s closest childhood friends met at the emergency room. The doctors let us see him before he was loaded on the Flight for Life to Denver. He was in a deep coma, frighteningly still. We prayed. We held his hand for a moment and pleaded with him to fight.

And fight they did. They lay comatose for weeks, occasionally squeezing your hand to let you know they were trying. Eventually they opened their eyes and mouthed reassuring words. They advanced to Craig Hospital, one of the finest rehabilitation centers in the world, and began the arduous tasks of healing broken bones, ruptured organs, atrophied muscles, and regaining lost memories and thought processes that no longer connect.

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Unfortunately their battle has come at a heavy cost. They move slowly and only with great difficulty. Jeff’s thoughts are trapped inside of a brain that cannot yet easily force them out through speech. Susan can occasionally drive short distances when she is able to muster the energy. More awareness brings more pain. As they continue their rigorous rehabilitation, they are often left with little strength to carry on basic daily tasks like cooking and cleaning. Neither will be fit to work for many months to come.

And, on top of every other immense challenge they face, the bills keep piling up.

Their medical costs are well over a million dollars, and counting. Insurance pays only about 80 percent. The man who hit them is poor. The car was uninsured. There is no one to pay the price for this crime. The rent, utilities and grocery expenses don’t stop coming.

Between the physical pain, the emotional suffering and the financial strain, I know that my friends are in a dire situation. They need help. They need your prayers. They need friendship. They need moral support. They need help with little things around the house. And, they need money, too.

And this may be the most difficult thing for them to come to grips with. They are not takers by nature. They have given much of their lives to help others. Jeff served his country in the Navy for more than a decade and saw combat in the first Desert Storm. He is a decorated retired lieutenant commander who faced enemy anti-aircraft fire as he piloted his helicopter off the coast of Iran. Susan is a nurse, most recently at Aspen Valley Hospital. She has dedicated her life to assisting and comforting others as they have faced challenges with their own pain and suffering.

I’ve known Jeff almost my entire life. He is stubborn. He is proud. He is good. Susan is his equal in all of these characteristics. Knowing them has been a true blessing in my life. I would do anything for them and that is why I am begging for your help now.

I am an optimist. I believe that good things come from all tragedies. I have seen it time and time again. But this one had me stumped. I looked hard and waited long to find the bright spot, but for a time I believed that maybe a thing so horrendous had finally come into my life that I didn’t have the ability to see past it to something better.

I believe that I have finally turned the corner on this giant obstacle blocking my vision for so long. It has come with this Christmas season that occurs every year solely to bring hope to each and every one of us. The gift I have opened my heart to this year is the humility to accept that we need each other. In a life full of difficulties that oftentimes we cannot make sense of, going it alone is not a viable option. We must rely on one another and our faith in merciful God. In the end, it is only the love for each other that can be taken by us out of this life. This is the only heavy load that we should ever consider shouldering. Every material comfort we have been blessed with must somehow be converted into love for it to do us any good. This is our life mission. Please help Jeff and Susan by making a contribution to the Jeff Reese and Susan Grove Benefit Account at Alpine Bank.

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