Saturday Diary / One of the good guys is on the mend


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Do kids still want to be police officers when they grow up?

In the 1970s, most kids in my suburban Buffalo neighborhood wanted to be the good guys when we played cops and robbers. We usually ended up taking turns, pointing sticks at each other, the robbers dramatically dying in a hail of gunfire. A cop never died in our childhood games, and even the robbers dusted themselves off to play another day.

Do children still play that way?

It doesn't seem so harmless anymore with so many police getting shot, not just in Pittsburgh but all over the world. Despite the risks and low pay, people still want to be police officers because they feel called to it, because it matters, because someone has to do it.

I've been lucky enough to know a couple of real-life good guys. I organized the Heroes Game last summer as a benefit for Clairton Police Officer Jim Kuzak, who was left partially paralyzed in 2011 when he was shot while responding to a home invasion. It's such a tight fraternity that I had no trouble finding officers to play in the charity softball game. Even the umpires were cops -- former state trooper Bill Csaszar and Pittsburgh Police Officer Ray Kain.

Officer Kain, a 34-year veteran now assigned to the traffic division, grew up on the North Side and served in the Army for four years before joining the city police bureau. He rode a motorcycle and was a canine officer, which is how I met him (our wives are dog people). For the last few years, he has helped investigate animal neglect and cruelty cases when he's not working traffic. He has been in many life-threatening situations, but wasn't when he nearly died two months ago while on duty.

He was driving a city patrol car with his partner on the afternoon of March 19. As they neared the West End Bridge, his partner noticed the car weaving and turned to find Officer Kain unconscious. His partner, who asked not to be identified, grabbed the wheel and steered the car to the side of the Carson Street on-ramp. When he called for help on the police radio, the closest officer was homicide detective Nick Bobbs.

They quickly got Officer Kain on the ground so his partner could perform CPR while Detective Bobbs gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. His partner recounted the details while visiting him at Mercy Hospital several days later.

"Dude, you were dead! I heard your death rattle!" he said.

As his partner struggled to resuscitate Officer Kain, he imagined someone telling his own two small children that their father was dead. Officer Kain's two children are grown. Would that have made it any easier?

"Man, I beat the hell out of you!" his partner said, describing how he thumped his chest trying to coax his heart back to life. Within a minute, paramedic crew chief Ted Ziegler, paramedic Chris Dobbins and district chief Richard Linn were at his side. They had to shock his heart twice to get it beating again.

Despite everyone's efforts, a doctor said there was a strong chance Officer Kain would not leave the hospital alive. After several unsuccessful attempts to open his arteries, doctors performed quintuple bypass surgery and put in an internal defibrillator.

Since the day his heart stopped, Officer Kain has heard from many friends, officers he has worked with and people he has met on the job. The Pittsburgh Steelers sent flowers and a card acknowledging his skill directing traffic near Heinz Field during games. He's the big Irish-looking cop gesturing, pointing and hollering at the corner of Allegheny Avenue and Reedsdale Street on the North Side. My wife, who has seen him at work at intersections Downtown, said he can be intimidating.

"Ray, I know you and you scare ME," she told him once.

A regular at police DUI checkpoints on the South Side, Officer Kain is often called in to help with accident investigations. He's seen so many fatal accidents that he instinctively comforts victims, sometimes without realizing it. I was eating lunch with him at Teutonia Mannerchor on the North Side in early March when he told our server he hoped her cold got better. She said she wasn't sick, just tired. She hadn't gotten much sleep since her cousin was struck and killed by a drunk driver over the weekend. Officer Kain hadn't worked the case but knew of it and offered his sympathy.

Two weeks later, he was the one who needed comforting, not that he'd ever ask for it. He was angry when he found out in April that a scammer on Facebook was pretending to be him and asking fellow officers for money. He didn't feel violated, he said. He felt the scammer had violated his friends and the friendships they had built through years of backing each other up, no matter what.

Officer Kain started cardiac rehabilitation last week, counting the days til he can drive again, til he can go back on the job. He wants to get back to the police work that he loves: protecting animals and people from traffic, from each other, from themselves, even. Who wouldn't want a job like that when they grow up?

opinion_commentary

Kevin Kirkland is editor of the Post-Gazette Magazine (kkirkland@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1978).


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