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Published: Wednesday, 12/24/2008

Life's low points fail to discourage Walbridge man

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Few others could find good in the cascade of misfortunes Allan Murphy has endured for more than a year.

His mother, former east-side business owner Jeanie Wilson, died on Christmas Day last year after inoperable cancer riddling her brain, spine, and lungs was discovered the month before. Yet Mr. Murphy finds comfort in knowing the 64-year-old Georgia native didn't suffer long and is at peace.

All of the Walbridge man's "girls" - wife, Kathy, and their three daughters, Erin, Brianna, and Allison - have faced health scares from heart problems or potential cancer. Brianna and Allison had surgery in October, and all four are doing well this Christmas.

Good even came from Mr. Murphy's admitted lowest point, he said, after he suddenly lost his maintenance position in April at Pilkington North America's research center in Rossford and could only get odd jobs to help provide for his family.

A series of events secured his current job at Life Flight, assisting with critical-care air and ground transports from St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

"I always look for something beautiful in all the situations, no matter what," said Mr. Murphy, 46, a Lake Township firefighter for nearly 11 years. "I find blessings in everything."

Allan Murphy is surrounded by his wife, Kathy, left, and daughters Brianna, Erin, holding Lillian the cat, and Allison, on the floor with their black Labrador, Ember. Allan Murphy is surrounded by his wife, Kathy, left, and daughters Brianna, Erin, holding Lillian the cat, and Allison, on the floor with their black Labrador, Ember.
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Through all the illnesses and losses, including a February fire that destroyed his mother-in-law's home in Indiana, Mr.

Murphy and his family have continued to do community service work to help others. Last Christmas Eve, for example, Mr. Murphy fixed a furnace for an East Toledo couple raising their grandchildren.

He was exhausted after returning from Georgia to be with his dying mother, but he spent 2 1/2 hours tearing the furnace apart and convincing businesses to open so he could get parts. He was rewarded with gratefulness from the family, including youngsters who didn't care about wrapped gifts, he said.

"There were two kids standing by the register crying," Mr. Murphy recalled. "They just wanted to be warm, and that's it."

Now Life Flight, the Walbridge-Lake Township Firefighters Association, and other community organizations are collecting donations to help the Murphy family pay for their medical expenses. The family who is used to volunteering is overwhelmed by the generosity.

"You don't realize the impact you have on the community until something happens and people come out to help you," said Mrs. Murphy, 46, whose mother and stepfather were at her uncle's funeral instead of at home when it burned, so fortunately they were not trapped by the blaze.

Mrs. Murphy added: "We know we're blessed, and we know there are people out there in worse situations than we are."

Lake Township firefighter Dave Neitz, who is heading up a committee planning a Feb. 21 benefit for the Murphys, said the fund-raiser is one way the community can help pay them back for the work they do. The 3 p.m. to midnight benefit on Feb. 21 at Millbury Fire Hall will feature a chicken dinner, silent and live auctions, and entertainment.

"He's helped out a lot of people in the department," Mr. Neitz said. "It's kind of what firemen do. We help out as much as we possibly can."

A native of Oregon, Mr. Murphy is active in the annual Walbridge Fest, as well as Mainstreet Church in Walbridge. Faith helps sustain them, the Murphys said.

"God got us through all of this. I've got no doubt in my mind," Mr. Murphy said.

His motto is simple: "You can't out-give God."

The family's troubles began last year, when Mrs. Murphy had a lump in her breast. A needle biopsy in November showed she didn't have cancer, but soon Erin and Brianna both started having heart problems - and Mr. Murphy's mother was diagnosed with the cancer that caused her death.

Erin, 22, is taking medication to treat her condition. But 18-year-old Brianna's condition worsened until an experimental surgical procedure at the University of Michigan Medical Center fixed her problems in October.

Their youngest child, 13-year-old Allison, also had a lump, but was not cancerous. She, too, had surgery in October.

Meanwhile, Mr. Murphy and his family this year have been helping take care of Mrs. Murphy's nephew, Harley James, 4, which surprises those who know about their financial difficulties.

Helping care for Harley has helped the family focus on something besides their own troubles, Mrs. Murphy said.

"Really, he has, for the most part, kept us grounded," she said.

Said Mr. Murphy: "It's a chair at my table and a little more love out of my heart. That's all he requires."

After losing job at Pilkington, Mr. Murphy was spurred by Brianna to go ahead with a planned "buddy flight" while finishing work to be an intermediate-level emergency medical technician, the step between basic EMT and paramedic.

There he found out about a new position being created by Life Flight and was encouraged to apply for one of the six job openings, which he filled in May.

"This is where I should have been all along," Mr. Murphy said.

His positive outlook and willingness to help others no matter what impressed Life Flight so much, he not only was given a job with the organization, but his family was "adopted" by it for the holidays.

"He had all the qualifications that we needed," said Julie Goins, program manager for Life Flight/Mobile Life Critical Care Transport Network, a partnership among St. Vincent, University of Toledo Medical Center, and St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima, Ohio.

"His attitude is what struck me," she added. "He just comes in and does his best every day."

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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