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Hero officer steps down two years after train collision

John Krahn says full recovery from injuries just isn't likely

June 15, 2011

John Krahn won't be working for the Elm Grove Police Department anymore, but to so many in the area, he will always be Officer John Krahn.

"I had to get some work done on my car in the town of Brookfield, and I decided to go for a walk on my crutches," Krahn recalled.

"Some guys recognize me and said, 'Hey we heard about you, we hope your legs get better.' It's amazing that even two years later people recognize me."

Krahn, for his part, has no problem remembering what happened to his leg - the memory still has him struggling to sleep at night. It has been more than two years since his heroic effort to save a mother and child from an oncoming train before the 2009 Memorial Day parade.

"I remember everything. I have nightmares every night, I remember every aspect of it," Krahn said.

He flew more than 60 feet after the train made impact with the minivan that was stuck on the railroad tracks; half a dozen major bones were shattered and significant nerve damage was done. On impact, the minivan struck Krahn and the family's father, who also was trying to help.

Krahn notes people just don't survive the kind of accident he had, but admits he was in so much pain for so long, it was hard to recognize the miracle of his life.

The father, mother and child all survived the crash, though the father was severely injured.

Cyndi, Krahn's wife - the two were married just seven months when the collision occurred - said she understood when she married John she could lose him in the line of duty, but a catastrophic accident never crossed her mind.

"When I married him I always had in the back of my mind he could die. I was prepared for that. I was never prepared for an injury the magnitude that he had," Cyndi said.

"For the last six months, it's improved greatly, but for the first year and a half it was a living hell. There were days where we were so depressed we didn't know how we were going to take it anymore."

Coming to grips with severity

Despite all the broken bones, surgeries and rehab, John was optimistic he could make a full recovery and even return to duty. It wasn't until last month that he decided that simply isn't realistic.

"I was very hopeful I was going to reach this point where I'm going to jump over and make this vast improvement where I'll be like I was before the accident," he said.

"There came a point approaching two years from the accident, and the doctors are all going, 'You're going to improve, but you're not going to be where you were at.' At that point the reality set in that I need to start looking out for my financial future."

He left his post with the Elm Grove Police Department last month - he had been working desk duty.

The future remains mostly unclear. John can get around on crutches now and may or may not be able to walk unassisted in the future. Luckily, he was able to avoid serious head trauma.

"The usual situation is when someone retires they have one year, two years, six months to prepare … whereas I was kind of thrust into this and it was relatively recent that I realized I'm not going to be able to go back to work," John said.

Determined to help others

What he does know is that he'd like to give to others the support he so desperately needed during his recovery. John has contacted Froedert Hospital to work on setting up a support group for people who have gone through major traumas.

"One of the biggest problems was not having someone to talk to. The doctors were great, but most of the doctors have not been through things like I've been through," he said.

Cyndi has offered similar help, working to set up a group for law enforcement families who have gone through these sorts of events. She had looked into this type of support group when she needed one and found there weren't many options.

Hard to see results

Both John and Cyndi talked about the recovery process being so slow that it can be difficult for them to see the progress that's been made.

"It's very difficult because you don't see the progress day to day. I'll see someone I haven't seen in months and they'll say to me, 'Wow you're really improved from where I saw you last time,' but I don't get to see that," John said.

"The (police) chief in Elm Grove talks to us about a new normal. We're dealing with what the situation is, so we're dealing with a new normal," Cyndi said.

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