The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    From out of nowhere

    Submitted photo

    In just a moment’s time, UW-Eau Claire sophomore Andy Anhalt’s life changed. And he doesn’t remember a single detail about it.

    In Feb. 2005, during his junior year in high school, Anhalt was driving his friends around Appleton, Wis. They were shopping for clothes to wear for his high school’s Valentine’s Day dance, Anhalt said. By the end of the day, Anhalt would find himself in a coma.

    After a fruitless search, they started driving home. He dropped off his now-girlfriend Elise Schaid, currently a freshman at UW-Oshkosh. Carrying friends Nick Kuhn and Tabitha Reichwald, they began driving home to Chilton, Wis. But just as Anhalt pulled out onto U.S. 10 and County Highway N intersection outside of Appleton, a suburban slammed into the side of his vehicle. Anhalt said the force of the collision knocked him out on impact.

    “I didn’t remember what happened in the accident at all,” Anhalt said. “I only remember a little bit leading up to it and when I woke up.”

    Story continues below advertisement

    When he did finally come out of his coma, he was told he had been moments away from death. Kuhn had an injury his surgeon had never seen before and Reichwald had died at the scene of the accident.

    From out of nowhere, the course of Anhalt’s life was forever altered.

    “I love to laugh”
    Anhalt is open when talking about his accident. It helps that he’s been an open person for most of his life.

    In an e-mailed response, Andy’s father Phil Anhalt, a maintenance mechanic, firefighter and an EMT basic, said Andy was always a friendly person growing up with him, his mother Sherie, a clerk of traffic courts in Chilton, and his younger sister Amanda.

    “He has always been a happy kid, easy going, outgoing, responsible,” he said.

    Andy Anhalt involves himself in many different activities, which explains his personable attitude toward others. Back in his high school, Anhalt volunteered as a soccer coach for children grades three through six as well as teaching grade school children about economics and math, he said. The biostatistics and bioinformatics major also helps tutor students at UW-Eau Claire in math, a favorite subject of his.

    “He was always a perfectionist when it came to homework,” his father said.

    Freshman Jackie Chlan, a friend of Anhalt’s, said he is an easy person to spend time with.

    “I think he’s a really good guy and he’ll do anything … for a friend,” Chlan said. “He’s really open to talking. If you need someone to discuss something with, he’s your guy to talk to.”

    She described her relationship with Anhalt as almost a brother-sister type of dynamic, with inside jokes between the two as well as a mutual feeling of protection for one another.

    Sophomore David Morrill said he has known Anhalt for the one and half years he’s been going to Eau Claire. The two enjoy watching sports and stand up comedy together, he said.

    “He’s very energetic (and) joyful,” Morrill said. “He’s always got a good joke to lift your spirits.”

    Anhalt often punctuates his sentences with laughter, slipping in jokes to fill in the gaps of a conversation.

    “I love to laugh,” Anhalt said. “I love comedy.”

    In addition to being a dedicated student and friend, Anhalt said he has been a loyal Green Bay Packer fan since the age of seven as well as a long-suffering Milwaukee Brewers follower. The Packers’ struggles in the years before this past season have done nothing to deter his devotion to the team, he said.

    “Even through the bad years I was a Packer fan through and through,” he said with conviction. “Even through the 4-12 season I was like, ‘You know, that’s OK.'”

    The accident
    That sort perseverance shouldn’t be unexpected from Anhalt after what he’s been through.

    The intersection of US 10 and County Highway N was hazardous because it had poor sight angles, with a curve and a stop sign interfering with drivers’ view of oncoming traffic, Anhalt explained. Four accidents, including Anhalt’s, occurred at that intersection in the first four months of 2005, according to the Calumet County Highway Committee minutes from its April 26, 2005 meeting.

    Anhalt said everyone in his vehicle had been wearing seat belts.

    The road to recovery for Anhalt following the accident was a long one. After the accident, Anhalt said he was left with a laundry list of injuries. Anhalt had minor brain damage and two broken ribs, one of which punctured his right lung. He said blood filled up his lung as he was taken into emergency surgery.

    Upon waking up for the first time, Anhalt said the surgeons told him it was his conditioning for the high school football team that kept him alive.

    “When I first came to, they told me I was probably within ten minutes of dying,” he said. “The only reason I lived was because I was in such good shape.”

    His ten-day stay at the Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah, Wis., caused him to lose 18 pounds, though, knocking him out of football shape even to this day, he said.

    With his uninjured lung doing the work of two, Anhalt survived the initial surgery following the accident. But the three days he spent in a coma afterward were extremely difficult, Phil Anhalt said.

    “It was tough,” he said. “It’s hard sitting there watching your child lay lifeless and be on life support … It’s something you don’t want anyone to have to go through.”

    Andy Anhalt’s friend Nick Kuhn’s injuries were even more extensive. Anhalt said Kuhn had a broken arm, a torn diaphragm and had his liver and stomach knocked out of place. The extent of his friend’s injuries was so severe, the surgeon who worked on him decided to document it all.

    “The doctor who worked on him with the surgery taped (Kuhn’s injuries),” he said. “(He) was going to use what happened to him (for teaching purposes) because it was so rare and he hadn’t seen it before.”

    But the most devastating loss of the accident was Tabitha Reichwald, who died at the scene of the crash. Anhalt said the weight of the news of her death did not really hit him for some time after the accident.

    After coming out of the coma, he said he kept asking what happened during the crash. Every time he was told Reichwald had died, Anhalt said he would fall back asleep; upon reawakening, he would ask the same questions and get the same answers.

    Once he recovered enough to retain what had happened, Anhalt said the gravity of the situation sunk in.

    “Yes, I felt a little bit of guilt,” he said. He said he still wonders to this day how things could have been different that day.

    But the outreach of Reichwald’s family and friends helped him deal with those feelings of responsibility, Anhalt said.

    “None of them blamed me for what happened.”

    The aftermath
    After Andy was released from the hospital, Phil Anhalt said the family encountered a host of problems. The medical bills and having to drive back and forth to the hospital on top of regular expenses took its toll.

    “(Andy was) struggling with schoolwork and having to be tutored in subjects where he normally did the tutoring,” Phil Anhalt said.

    Andy Anhalt said he had memory problems in the months following the accident, which affected his performance in school. He isn’t above poking fun at himself when discussing this, though.

    “I’m back to my normal memory problems now,” Anhalt said with a laugh. “I didn’t have a good memory beforehand, so you can imagine what it was like for six months after the accident.”

    Phil Anhalt said he credits his son’s full recovery to the support his friends and family have given him in the months and years following the accident.

    “Andy has a close group of friends that have always been there for him,” he said. “They continue to be there for him when needed.”

    Anhalt said he was found to be at fault for the accident, causing his family’s insurance rates to go up. He added there has been a stabilizing of the family’s insurance costs recently, though.

    The nature of the crash and his injuries initially made him hesitant to talk about what happened with others, Anhalt said.

    “For a little while some things were personal,” he said. “I didn’t want to talk about some things all the time.”

    Over time, though, he said he was more open to speaking about his devastating experience. Anhalt said he went to a counselor once to discuss what happened but has not had to go back since.

    “What happened happened,” Anhalt said. “Now I’ll talk about it if (people) ask me.”

    Moving on
    After the rash of car crashes at the intersection of Anhalt’s accident, a renovation plan is in place for the area. According to the meeting minutes of the Calumet County Highway Committee meeting from March 17, 2007, a round-a-bout is scheduled to be built for the intersection by 2009.

    Kuhn also made a full recovery, Anhalt said.

    Anhalt said now he’s focused on the friendships he’s making at UW-Eau Claire.

    “I’ve made a lot of good friends this year,” he said.

    Morrill said he and Anhalt enjoy a wide variety of activities, such as bowling, watching movies and whatever else comes to their minds.

    “(We do) pretty much any kind of dumb stupid thing we can think of,” Morrill said with a laugh.

    As for Anhalt, he said he has recovered completely from the accident. He said he is looking forward to his and Schaid’s third anniversary as a couple on March 15.

    He said he’s now an avid golfer and bowls in a Monday night league at the Hilltop Recreational Center on campus.

    “I didn’t do so hot on my first night (of bowling league), but that’s OK,” he said with a smile.

    Bad days will come and go, but Anhalt said he appreciates more in life after the accident.

    “All in all, it kind of made me a better person with a different outlook on life,” Anhalt said. “I make sure I have good times with all my friends.”

    Leave a Comment
    More to Discover

    Comments (0)

    The Spectator intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. The Spectator does not allow anonymous comments and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
    All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Activate Search
    From out of nowhere