Published on March 03, 2021

Alpena’s Emergency Department and Community Change a Man’s Life

Photo of Butch and Janice Grochowski presenting plaque to staff at MidMichigan Medical Center - Alpena.

Butch and Janice Grochowski (center) presented a custom glass recognition piece to MidMichigan Medical Center – Alpena. Accepting on behalf of the staff is Chuck Sherwin, president of the Medical Center, (right of Butch and Janice), and the Alpena leadership team.

Guardian angels can come in many forms and usually spur overwhelming emotions. On a beautiful summer day, Anthony “Butch” Grochowski had more than a few angels watching over him even though he remembers little about it.

Butch, 69, is a farmer and owns a butcher shop in Alpena County. On June 3, 2020, he was smoking meat for a client and noticed the pilot on the smoker was out, so he set upon the everyday task of relighting it with a torch. After returning the torch to the butcher shop, he went back to the smokehouse and was met with a ball of fire coming at him. “The smoker didn’t explode,” explains his wife Janice. “It’s a mystery where the fireball came from as the smoker door was still closed, but the smokehouse was on fire.”

Somehow Butch, badly burned, managed to make his way to the house yelling for help from his son. His son, Kyle, called 911 and began applying silvadene to Butch’s burns. The Wilson Township, Green Township, Air National Guard fire departments all arrived and began putting out the fire. Seeing the smoke, guardian angels in the form of neighbors began arriving to help the family take care of over 100 head of cattle and other animals the Grochowskis have on the farm.

An ambulance rushed Butch to MidMichigan Medical Center – Alpena. He had first, second and third degree burns over the upper part of his body, head and back. Janice, who works at the Medical Center, was in the Emergency Department with Butch. “Butch is a very stubborn man,” Janice said with a smile and a few tears. “His stubbornness was working against him because he was refusing to be intubated.” David Saenz, M.D., emergency medicine provider, came to Janice asking what they could do or say to convince him to allow this important emergency care. “I was at a loss because I know how stubborn he is,” she added.

Again, those guardian angels prevailed because the care team in the Emergency Department persuaded Butch to agree to the intubation tube before he was airlifted to Michigan Medicine’s Burn Unit.

“If the Alpena care team did not convince Butch to get the tube inserted, he likely would not be with us now,” said Janice. “I don’t know what they said or did, but our entire family is grateful.”

Butch was in a medically induced coma for two weeks and had skin graft surgeries. Fortunately, he did not have any internal injuries so the team focused on healing his burns. After six and a half weeks, with Janice at this side the whole time, he returned home July 18, 2020.

“While he was still in a lot of pain, Butch was so happy to be home,” Janice said. “We were overjoyed to have him home, as well.”

Occupational and physical therapists from MidMichigan Home Care met with Butch to help him regain use of his hands and arms. For six weeks, Judy Szydlo, occupational therapist, worked with Butch stretching his muscles and skin, especially where he had the skin grafts. “Butch and Judy just clicked,” Janice said with a smile. “Butch wasn’t always motivated to do his exercises, but Judy has a special way of pushing him to get them done every day.”

While away from home, the community and Janice’s co-workers rallied their support for the family. Losing all of their hay in the fire, neighbors brought in feed and hay for the animals, and a fellow farmer from Posen drove his wagon full of hay over 25 miles to their home. Friends and family delivered meals to their sons who continued to oversee the farm in their father’s absence. The Alpena community and employees at MidMichigan Medical Center – Alpena took up collections to help with medical costs.

“Butch and I are completely overwhelmed with the ongoing support we have received over the last several months. Our sons continue to help every day. Friends and family are still offering assistance as Butch starts to rebuild his business at another area butcher shop,” said Janice. “Even our Amish neighbors told us when we start to rebuild the butcher shop to give them two days’ notice and they would be there with a crew to help with the construction. It’s been amazing.”

To show their appreciation to the employees at the Medical Center, Butch and Janice presented a handcrafted, etched glass recognition piece to staff. The beautiful piece has two large angel wings and is inscribed with these words, “Angels Among Us, Thank you MidMichigan Health for saving my husband, dad and grandfather. And God bless all the doctors, nurses and people that are working and saving lives. Sincerely, Anthony Grochowski Family.”

In the business of everyday living, we don’t often see each other, but in times of need it does one’s heart good to know that guardian angels can appear when needed most.