LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)— On December 5th, 2014, two close mid-Michigan families became even closer, through tragedy.
The Kuhnert family and the Andary family have been friends for years and on that Friday night, Scott Kuhnet and Ellen Andary traveled north together to watch their sons play hockey. On the way home from that game, Kuhnert and Andary were involved in a crash, after a man speeding the wrong way down U.S. 127 near Mount Pleasant, hit their vehicle head-on.
Kuhnert died at the scene, leaving behind his wife Kristine, and three boys Holden, Max, and Quinn. Ellen Andary was seriously injured and flown to Sparrow Hospital, to fight for her life.
For both families, the crash left a dark hole in their hearts, but they both knew where to go to get help. Andary’s husband Michael is a Doctor and Professor at Michigan State University. He specializes in Traumatic brain injuries and rehabilitation, something his wife was now facing.
“Who in the world can handle this better than me?” Andary told 6 News, ” I guess it was something I had to ask myself. If I can’t handle it, who can?”
For the Andarys, their support would come from Origami Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center in Mason. They not only assisted Ellen in her recovery, but taught the family how to support her so she could be at home, and taken care of by those who love her most. To this day, Ellen still struggles with mobility, memory, and needs 24/7 assistance, but her family is happy.
“I’m sitting here happy,” said Mike Andary. “Look at how happy she is, I mean, this is a good outcome for a terrible problem and I don’t know that we could have done that without Origami.”
As for the Kuhnert family, they turned to Ele’s Place, an organization that helps children and teens grieving the death of loved ones. Kristine, who is now the Director of Ele’s Place, knew her boys would need a place to help them cope with the loss of their father.
“Where else are they going to get the support that they need?” Said Kuhnert. “We’ve seen if you keep grief bottled up, at some point, it’s going to implode. You have kids who, perhaps will turn to drugs, alcohol, suicide ideations, it’s absolutely imperative to deal with grief.”
The boys spent a year there and two of them now volunteer at Ele’s Place regularly, sharing their experiences and help others facing similar circumstances.
As for Kristine, she lost her husband in the crash and also a part of Ellen as well, who had been her best friend for many years. Their conversations are different now, but between Ellen and her family, her three boys, and memories of Scott, Kristine finds the strength to keep going.
She often reflects back on a conversation she had with Scott a few months before the accident when she was upset about something that had happened in their lives. “He just grabbed me by my shoulders and said Kristine, our life is much bigger than this. We have so much more to do, you can’t get caught up in this. Our life is so much bigger. And that’s what I continue to hold close to my heart.”
The Izzo family knows both the Andarys and the Kuhnerts, and both Ele’s Place and Origami Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center hold a special place in their hearts as well. They’re two of the 13 charities the family supports through the “Izzo Legacy.”
The Izzo Legacy was started by MSU Men’s Basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo and his wife Lupe in 2019. They held a Run, Walk, Roll 5K event in East Lansing, raising more than $200,000 for those organizations.
In 2020 the Izzo Legacy 5k event was canceled due to COVID-19, so they launched a Day of Giving and the 4th Quarter Challenge to try and raise money for the non-profits. While the organization says it won’t be able to hold the 5K again this year, it’s still working on a fundraising plan for 2021.
To learn more about Ele’s Place or the Origami Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center, click on the images below.