July 20, 2018

Fall in France breaks teen’s back, but not his or family’s faith

From his hospital bed in France, Alex Kalscheur, 18 and a member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, holds two rosaries he touched to a relic at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on July 6. They were still in his pocket later the same day when he fell 30 feet, fracturing one vertebrae and destroying another. (Submitted photo)

From his hospital bed in France, Alex Kalscheur, 18 and a member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, holds two rosaries he touched to a relic at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on July 6. They were still in his pocket later the same day when he fell 30 feet, fracturing one vertebrae and destroying another. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

On July 6, 18-year-old Alex Kalscheur had only five days left of a two-week visit to France, staying with longtime family friends.

“He had just gotten his Eagle Scout Award [the highest level of Scouts BSA, formerly Boy Scouts of America], and was one of the youngest managers at McDonald’s ever,” says his mother, Amy Kalscheur. The trip to France was “a big celebration of several things. It was a big deal for him to visit them.”

Earlier that day, Alex, a member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, participated in First Friday Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. While there, he purchased two rosaries and touched them to a relic believed to be Christ’s crown of thorns, retrieved from Jerusalem by St. Helen in the fourth century.

That evening he and his hosts were enjoying a large gathering at a chateau in the Alps. Alex still had the two rosaries in his pocket when tragedy struck.

‘It was 30 feet down’

“Alex said, ‘Mom, it was so beautiful. The stars came out, and I wanted to see them better,’ ” says Kalscheur, repeating her son’s recounting of the incident. “So he stepped up on a 2-foot wall and looked up.

“He doesn’t remember how it happened, but he fell, and on the other side of the wall it was 30 feet down.”

The fall fractured one of Alex’s vertebrae and “imploded” another, Kalscheur says, sharing the explanation from the doctors in France.

She is in France now, staying as long as possible each day by Alex’s side in the hospital where he is recuperating from back surgery. Kalscheur took time from her son’s bedside to speak with The Criterion from the hospital.

“His hips seem to work, but he’s losing movement a little,” she reports. “His knees work fine, but his lower legs and feet don’t move at all. He has feeling in his lower legs and can feel his feet if we grab them and squeeze.

“The bones of his spine need to heal. Until that happens, he’s in a great deal of pain, and he can’t sit upright.”

Msgr. Mark Svarczkopf, pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood, has provided the family with not just spiritual support, but empathy as well.

“I told [Amy], when I was Alex’s age I broke my back in exactly the same place,” he says. “It’s life changing. I don’t do all the things I did before the accident. It changed me. An injury like that does affect you the rest of your life.”

‘The miracles just keep unfolding’

Yet the Kalscheurs—Amy, husband Michael and their seven additional children ranging in age from 9-22—see God’s presence in the midst of the chaos.

“The amazing thing is, he didn’t have a scratch on his body except on an elbow, which happened after the fall,” Kalscheur says. “The doctors said he landed as if cradled.

“The miracles just keep unfolding,” she adds. “The doctors in France tend not to be so optimistic [in general], yet his doctors are saying he will walk. They don’t know if he’ll have full capability, and it will be a struggle, but they are optimistic.”

Other blessings, she says, include the presence of two doctors at the party who were able to assist Alex during the 30 minutes it took for the ambulance to arrive. Additionally, through a series of connections, a friend of Kalscheur’s knew of a doctor who lives a 20-minute walk from Alex’s hospital. When she heard of the Kalscheurs’ plight, the doctor invited Amy and Michael to stay with her as long as necessary. Michael returned home on July 16, while Amy will stay with Alex until he can return home.

Being able to receive the Eucharist daily has been a blessing, too, says Amy Kalscheur.

“He loves the Mass,” she says, noting that Alex trains altar servers at Our Lady of the Greenwood and serves as a master of ceremonies for weekend Masses there.

“He’s the type of kid who, if for some reason we go to Mass at noon, he’ll go back a second time to emcee at 6 p.m. [Mass]. If they need servers, he’ll [serve] two Masses. He has a love for the Mass that I think one rarely sees in someone his age. He’s a very spiritual person. His love for Christ is so great.”

‘We hope we get Alex home soon’

Kalscheur says the outpouring of prayers and support from their parish, family, friends and even strangers has been “overwhelming.”

Yet there are still practical and logistical issues to manage—primarily, getting Alex home to recover.

“We want him to receive rehabilitation in the States,” she says. “But he needs to be able to sit upright [on a commercial airline]—which he can’t because of his injuries—or take a medical flight, which is $75,000 to $100,000. And then we need to have medical attendants on the way home because lots of things could happen.”

Here, too, people have stepped up to help. A GoFundMe campaign was started online, and Our Lady of the Greenwood will sell baked goods after each Mass on July 21 and 22.

One particular parish ministry is coordinating several efforts to help the Kalscheurs. Agape Performing Arts Company produces amateur youth plays and musicals with a focus on developing cooperation and community among all involved.

Tracey Rollison, Agape’s community relations director, says the Kalscheur family “has been very involved with us,” from several siblings acting and stage managing, to Amy serving as treasurer.

“[Alex is] kind of one of our own,” she continues. “He is really one of the best people I know. The whole family are just perpetually happy people. It’s definitely rooted in their strong Catholic faith. It’s the peace of God they all have.

“We hope we get Alex back home soon.”

To help make that happen, the ministry is accepting donations and cards for Alex at all performances of their current production, Oliver the Musical. They worked with a Greenwood location of Firehouse Subs to donate 20 percent of its sales on July 26. And one Agape couple is coordinating a dinner and dance at the parish on July 28.

(See related story for more information on fundraising efforts for Alex’s transportation and medical costs)

When asked about such support, Kalscheur pauses to stifle her tears.

“It’s overwhelming to me, the generosity of others,” she says, her voice choked with emotion.

‘Faith has been so crucial’

Efforts from family and friends to raise funds are not all that give hope to the Kalscheurs. Their faith sustains them day in and day out.

“Jesus said himself he healed [the blind man] so that the glory of God might be shown,” says Kalscheur, referring to John 9:3. “That verse stuck with me. It’s so powerful.

“And after my husband finished praying a rosary by Alex’s bedside, he felt a large hand on his shoulder, and he felt peace. That one moment is carrying Michael.”

Faith is helping Alex’s siblings as well.

“Faith has been so crucial,” says his 21-year-old sister Olivia Kitchell, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis. After receiving the news of her brother’s accident, she and her husband immediately prayed the rosary.

“The first and only thing we could do was pray,” she says. “It’s necessary just to trust, because there is absolutely nothing we can do.”

And while she notes that her own prayers are “meaningful,” Kitchell says the “amazing outpouring of grace and hope from the community just blows me away. We have friends who have offered Masses, priest friends who have [celebrated] Masses. That firestorm of prayer, I think, is what’s making this so much easier on the family.”

Her mother agrees, and sees in this hardship an opportunity to share God’s goodness.

“Yes, there’s the money side of this [story],” Amy says. “But to share the story of faith is what’s most important.

“We’re not the only ones [in the world] who are suffering, and we have to be careful not to think we’re alone in our suffering. We all suffer together, and the glory is that when we suffer with Christ, we can rise with him.” †

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