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Cruel Accident Robs Man of Legs, and More

August 13, 2009 By:
Daphna Berman, Jewish Exponent Feature
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Michael Kogan has always stopped to help people stranded on the side of the road. But for Kogan, 28, a Ukrainian-born Israeli who relocated to Philadelphia four years ago, the decision to stop and help a stranger on a dark road on April 17 has forever changed his life.

"I saw a woman on the side and she looked like she had a flat tire," he recalled. "I pulled in front of her car and went to my trunk to get a jack."

That was when another driver plowed into the woman's car, catapulting her vehicle into his with a force that completely severed Kogan's legs. The woman, Reyna Castro, a mother of three who will forever remain a stranger to Kogan, was killed instantly by the impact.

"I went flying," Kogan said in a recent interview from his family's home in Northeast Philadelphia. "I remember it all. I looked down and saw that I didn't have legs. I rubbed my eyes at first, but I understood then what had happened."

Since then, Kogan's days have been filled with surgeries, rehabilitation and more surgeries, leaving the young man with tremendous debt and few resources to buy costly prosthetic legs.

But as word of his tragedy spread, kindness from strangers quickly followed, with people all over the country -- most notably, from the Russian Jewish community -- rallying to his support. Contributions have helped the family move to a wheelchair-accessible home; people have organized fundraisers and built a Web site, www.help4mike.com, that has raised some $27,000. Another stranger, who owns a prosthetics company, offered to donate legs worth some $60,000 after hearing a local TV report.

"It has really surprised me and it has really touched me," he said of all the support.

Kogan, who was born in Kiev, immigrated to Israel in 1989, where his family settled in Haifa. After serving in the Israel Defense Force, he applied to the CMG Computer Center, a school in Trevose, and came to the United States on a student visa in 2005. When his father, Leonty, a computer programmer, was granted a green card and his parents relocated to Philadelphia, Kogan followed soon after.

Kogan's precarious status here, combined with minimal insurance coverage, has made the accident a financial calamity for the family. Kogan's mother, Ida, quit her job as a home health aide to attend to her son, leaving his father the family's sole supporter.

Ineligible for Benefits

Because he is not a U.S. citizen, he is ineligible for benefits like Medicaid, disability or a home health aide.

"Michael is in no man's land now because of his status," explained Lori Warsaw, supervisor of care management at Jewish Family and Children's Service, which is providing the family with food and rent subsidies.

"Our goal is to provide the whole household with the services they need," said Amal El-Nageh, a JFCS social worker assigned to the Kogans. "Their rent has doubled, mom has lost her income because she now cares for Mike and so we have stepped in to make sure the household can afford their basic needs."

In recent weeks, Kogan has found solace meeting Iraq war veterans who are amputees like himself and have been able to piece together a normal life. "I never expected to find myself in this situation," he said. "This is a very difficult time in my life. I want to forget this nightmare and move on. I hope to go back to school as fast as I can. I want to work hard and go back to my normal life."

He enjoys soccer, fishing and swimming, and hopes that his new legs will allow him to continue those pursuits. And he's setting his sights high. "I want to ice skate again. It's very hard without legs," he acknowledged. "But people do it."

 

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