By Dan Campana
People say it all the time.
They are well intentioned every time they say it.
It’s something to say when people don’t know what else to say.
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
Friends, colleagues and acquaintances truly mean well during challenging times or when tragedy strikes, but often there are limits as to how much they can do to help. In the case of Riverside Police Officer Chris Kudla, there has been a tangible ongoing effort to make sure the veteran officer knows how many people have his back.
Since his cancer diagnosis in November, Kudla’s dedication to his work remains steady. He’s shown up for night shifts after spending his the day receiving treatment. He’s endured trips to the hospital emergency department and allergic reactions that left him struggling to breathe. And, through it all, he’s carried a weight of worry about the financial and emotional toll of his illness on his family.
An army of supporters – from relatives and co-workers to complete strangers – didn’t just idly ask what they could do to help, they jumped into action. From raising nearly $43,000 in a GoFundMe campaign to showing up in droves at local fundraisers, the #KudlaStrong movement has provided moral and monetary support.
As heartening as all that is, something even a little more special recently happened. Chief Tom Weitzel dropped me a note earlier this week with a link to a story about how Riverside’s finest and village employees took their selflessness to another level.
You see, although Kudla is long-time police officer with previous tenures in Montgomery and Lyons, he’s spent less than two years in Riverside, which meant sick days are in short supply. That’s where coworkers and other Riverside workers stepped in to donate their sick time to give 46-year-old Kudla nearly six months to use for treatments and recovery.
“I am very proud and honored to work for such a wonderful group of men and women. I am also very proud of the entire village staff who also donated sick time,” said Weitzel, who previously praised Kudla for his spirit and passion for the job.
Kudla posted a late-June update on the GoFundMe page to thank those who contributed and reaffirm his dedication.
“The first major block of sick hours donated by my coworkers hit my balance last week. I basically now have the equivalent of a 10-year officer after being there only a year. This will allow me to take off the days that I have my chemo, as well as a couple days afterwards to rest,” Kudla wrote. “I cannot stress how huge this is. I think that is what (has) been hurting me most with my treatment. There were days that I would get my chemo in the morning and then go to work.
“… This is going to give me some of the help I need for sure. I will still be able to do the work at this time that I love to do, but also get the rest I need,” he explained.
I’ve read that line over a few times. Kudla’s in the fight of his life, a fight for his life, and he continues to think about how he can keep serving the community. Amazing. What more can be said?
The simple answer would be Kudla, without intending to do so, is an inspiration. Not just as a police officer, but as a human being.
It takes a unique person to wear the badge. It takes a special person to persevere, as Kudla has, through the personal hell of cancer to make sure he can continue to wear that badge.