Police officer from Cottage Grove making 'remarkable recovery' after crashIn the six months since Cottage Grove resident Frank Mackall was critically injured in an accident while on police patrol in Savage, he has surprised doctors, friends and family with his rate of rehabilitation.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
Lisabeth Mackall remembers her husband’s condition after was he was transported by medical helicopter from the scene of his car crash.
“It was bad,” she said.
As he lay at North Memorial Hospital, Savage police officer and Cottage Grove resident Frank Mackall had minor scrapes and no broken bones but there were serious concerns about his head trauma.
“It didn’t look good,” Lisabeth said of Frank’s early prognosis.
Yet just as remarkable as his survival in the one-vehicle crash has been the success of his recovery. In the six months since Frank was critically injured in an accident while on police patrol, he has surprised doctors, friends and family with his rate of rehabilitation. Since early January he has regained physical strength and many of his cognitive abilities.
During the recovery, the Mackalls said they have been supported by an overwhelming network of police officers, neighbors, relatives, fellow church parishioners and others from the community. Offers of assistance still stream in from acquaintances and complete strangers alike. Two benefits have been held to support him, including one recently in Cottage Grove. People still send cards and notes wishing him well.
“He’s a good guy and he’s a really good police officer, and he’s kind of a sign of hope for a lot of people,” Lisabeth said. “You hear stories of people not getting the support – and that’s heart-breaking to me.”
‘My brain bounced’
Driving conditions were bad when Frank started his patrol shift in Savage on New Year’s Day. The temperature hovered around freezing, and the roadways were slick in the far southwest Twin Cities suburb.
Shortly after midnight on June 2, he was dispatched to a report of a prowler. His partner was responding to the same call in a separate squad. The State Patrol has not released the accident report yet, but police at the scene said Frank was not driving very fast, due to the poor conditions.
Still, the road was covered with ice.
“When I lost control of my car, the car ended up sideways on the road (and) I slammed into a tree,” he said, the impact contorting the squad car into the shape of a boomerang.
“My brain bounced around inside my head and my right arm was pinned under me,” said Frank, 39. He doesn’t remember the crash — it’s part of a 2 1/2-month gap in his memory — but he’s heard the story.
He was wearing a seat belt, but officers found him unresponsive at the scene and immediately airlifted him. He was in a natural coma, and doctors put him in a medically induced coma at the start of his 84-day hospital stay.
For at least the first few weeks, Frank was never alone at the hospital. Police officers — from Savage, Cottage Grove and many other departments — provided 24-hour watch in his room.
“We had hundreds of visitors we didn’t know,” Lisabeth remembered.
Frank seemed to acknowledge their presence. His heart rate fluctuated when he heard a police radio or opened his eyes and saw an officer in uniform at his bedside.
Savage Police Capt. Bruce Simon said his officers wanted to see Frank as soon as they could after the crash. They created shifts to make sure a cop was always there while he was in intensive care. It started with just Savage officers, but then cops from other agencies helped out. Most had never met Frank.
“We wear a badge and that’s all that mattered,” Simon said.
Frank was impressed by the response.
“That’s one thing that’s really good about being a police officer,” he said. “When anybody’s hurt, everybody responds.”
Frank has been with the Savage Police Department for five years. Prior to that, he served briefly with the Woodbury Police Department. He started his law enforcement career as a reserve officer in Cottage Grove.
As Frank has recovered, the family has had to adapt to a new and still-changing dynamic. Life at their home has changed. Frank has changed. They all have had to adjust, Lisabeth said. At the time of the crash their daughter was 15, their sons 7 and 9.
Through all of the changes, community and law enforcement support has been consistent.
About a month ago a benefit was held for Mackall in Savage. Earlier this month several Cottage Grove-area organizations organized another benefit for him. The local benefit was sponsored by the Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park-Newport Lions clubs, the Cottage Grove Crime Prevention Board and the city’s public safety department, the Strawberry Fest Committee and the Fraternal Order of Police.
“It went great; the turnout was pretty good,” said Erik Witt, a friend of the Mackall family for several years.
Witt estimated that the recent benefit raised at least $16,000 for the Mackalls. The funds will offset medical costs and lost income after Lisabeth quit her job as a speech therapist and rehabilitation director to be with Frank full time.
Witt said Frank’s progress since the crash has been “pretty phenomenal,” considering that people thought he was going to die.
“He’s made an unbelievable recovery to this point,” Witt said.
Physically he is in good shape. Frank and Lisabeth work out together, and Frank planned to run a 5K during a recent family vacation. He can bench press over 250 pounds.
Mackall wants to get back to work. He has been cleared to drive. He visits the Savage department and has ridden with officers on patrol.
However, he still is in outpatient rehabilitation and probably will not be ready to return to work until late summer or early fall, Lisabeth said. Even then it will be a gradual return. It’s expected that he’ll start part-time in the office before returning to patrol duty.
Frank has mixed thoughts about how far his recovery has come.
“It’s frustrating,” he admitted during a recent interview in his living room. “Part of me feels like I’m ready to go back and be a police officer, and part of me is aware that I’m not ready yet.”