When the Review asked graphic designer Ryan Jaffe how Forest Park firefighters have supported him since March, when he ended up in the hospital after a car hit him on his way to Doc Ryan’s bar on Madison Street, he struggled to find words. Words like “grateful,” he said, felt inadequate.
“I try to make it to the fire department as much as possible,” he said. “Doing something like this for me and my family is amazing,”
“This” being the fundraiser the Forest Park Firefighters Local 2753 and the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce organized for Jaffe and his family on the afternoon of June 10 at Shanahan’s bar, 7353 Madison St. While he is well enough to be out of the hospital, Jaffe will have to learn to stand and walk all over again. The firefighters told the Review that they wanted not only to offer financial support but organize something that will show Jaffe how many people support him, which they hope will help sustain him through the rest of the recovery.
Jaffe, of Wheaton, described himself as a “pretty active guy” who works two jobs and values his family. On that March day, he went to Doc Ryan’s to meet up with friends. He remembered pulling into the nearby parking lot, getting out of the car and texting one of his friends to see where he was.
“I don’t remember anything after that,” he said.
According to firefighter Travis Myers, another car veered off Madison Street and hit Jaffe. Firefighter-paramedic Tim Ryan, who was in the ambulance that responded to the call, said that he did what he would do on any other call to keep the victim alive. But as he held Jaffe’s hand as the ambulance raced to the hospital, his five years of professional experience told him that odds weren’t in the other man’s favor.
Jaffe has gone through 10 surgeries, including a surgery to reattach his foot. Ryan told the Review that the fact he made it at all came down to Jaffe’s inner strength.
“We go to work every day and our only [goal] is to make sure we help every person we encounter to the best of our ability,” he said. “Ryan [Jaffe] is one of the strongest human beings I’ve ever known. He could not have recovered if he didn’t have that strength and the drive.”
About two weeks later, Jaffe’s aunt contacted the fire department to see if Ryan and Myers were interested in seeing her nephew. Myers said that, while they don’t usually visit recovering victims in hospitals, this was a special case. He reflected that seeing him recover was a reminder of what happens when everything after the accident goes right.
As Ryan and Jaffe talked, they realized that they had something in common.
“Tim Ryan and I must have known each other when we were kids – we used to play baseball together,” Jaffe said.
During the June 10 fundraiser, many family members and friends came in wearing black “Rhino Strong” T-shirts. Jaffe said it was a reference to his nickname, something that his friends made when he was still in the hospital.
“They wanted me to be strong,” he said. “They weren’t sure I was going to make it.”
As the event wore on, people – many of whom sported the black T-shirts, kept on coming. Mayor Rory Hoskins stopped by, welcoming him to Forest Park and saying that he was sorry that the accident happened in the village. Commissioner Michelle Melin-Rogovin attended as well.
“I think this event speaks volumes about our fire department, and the way we were able to come together as the community,” Hoskins told the Review later during the event.
Jaffe’s family commissioned a wooden plaque with an American flag design that included a Forest Park Fire Department logo in the star field, a red stripe running down the middle and the inscription of an Abraham Lincoln quote “Next to creating a life, the finest thing a person can do is to save one.” Jaffe’s mother, Lisa Jaffe, presented it to Myers and Ryan at the fundraiser.
“It’s amazing, it’s a miracle,” she said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart doesn’t even begin to cover it.”
Jaffe is currently using a wheelchair to get around, but when addressing the crowd, he asked his wife and his family members to help him stand. With them literally supporting him from both sides, he thanked everyone for their support.
“I’m staying strong,” he said. “It’s just amazing to see everyone show up here. I’m staying strong.”