Injured Leechburg police chief hopes to go home, continue as a cop
Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold is ready to go home to Kyle, Gracie and Danielle.
And he is amazed at all the goodwill messages he is getting — even from people he has arrested.
Diebold, who is a licensed pyrotechnic, was setting off fireworks at the Leechburg firefighters' carnival June 24 when a shell exploded prematurely. His left hand and arm were severed above the elbow and he almost died.
"They told me I lost three-quarters of my blood," said the 39-year-old Diebold, who has been a police officer since age 19 and Leechburg's chief for the past 10 years.
Diebold said he very much appreciates his care by firefighters, medics, nurses and doctors. But he wants to be discharged from UPMC Mercy and really get going with rehab.
He wears a loose bandage below his left eye, and his arm above the elbow is tightly bandaged.
His fiance Danielle Reinke, their 11-week-old son, Kyle, and her young daughter Gracie have visited every day since Diebold was flown to the hospital.
"They are the best medicine," Diebold said.
Now, he wants to get on with the hard work of rehabilitation and keeping alive his dream to go back on duty. "I live and breathe for my community," Diebold said.
He longs to hold Kyle. That's something he hasn't been able to do for 12 long days.
"They took the last piece of machinery off me — a heart monitor — and I'm doing good," he said Wednesday. "I'm waiting for the doctors to say yes. Maybe I can go home tomorrow," he said.
"I'm feeling good. As good as I can," he said, emphasizing it with a strong right handshake and ever-present smile.
Diebold said he is reading about high-tech mechanical arms and hands that will allow him to qualify on the pistol range, a key to resuming his job as police officer.
His insurance may not pay for that expense, so Diebold is hoping a GoFundMe site, set up by a cousin, will handle it.
"I've been reading about the hands and arms on the internet," he said.
Just glad to be here
Diebold still remembers part of what happened to him at about 10:30 p.m. June 24.
He was volunteering to set off fireworks bought by the fire department.
"We were almost done for the evening. Almost to the grand finale. "I believe a shell came out of the tube instead of going up. All of a sudden, I saw a huge white flash. I was knocked back and yelling for help," he said.
"My hand wasn't there, my arm wasn't there and I was in my own blood."
Diebold said his police training came to mind. "I yelled for help and for someone to put a tourniquet on. Fortunately they did. I was in and out of it. Then I felt myself slipping away and I asked Shawn Lerch, my mayor and friend, to watch out for my son. I still get emotional remembering that," Diebold said.
He remembers the helicopter flight to Mercy, sort of, and then he was in the intensive care unit.
"I woke up there. Shaking and cold. Nurse Ashley told me I'd be OK, and she took extremely good care of me. All of the nurses and others have. They are special people," he said.
A step-daughter's baseball team has added a Diebold fundraising T-shirt as its uniform shirt. "I didn't expect this. Look at this photo," he said, holding his new cellphone.
His previous phone was destroyed by the blast that took his arm.
Diebold knew his family and friends would be interested, but he is awe struck by the well-wishes of so many other people.
"I woke up in the ICU once, and there was an employee who I had issued citations to in the past, and he was saying he heard I was there and just had to check on me," Diebold said.
He is appreciative and somewhat surprised by the community fundraiser under way to help his family.
"I am getting Facebook messages from people who I arrested telling me that I help them turn their lives around," Diebold said, his face lighting up. "I didn't know it was making a difference."
He received cards and letters from Missouri state troopers who helped with drug arrests involving a Leechburg man. "And I got a card from a police officer in Bali in Indonesia. Amazing. Just amazing," he said.
"As a police sometimes you don't make the most popular decisions. People come into a municipal meeting yelling about police. We don't hear them thanking us."
Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or email@example.com or on Twitter @ChuckBiedka.