Help for a Good Samaritan Friends and strangers rally to pay for Michael Kogan's recovery.

Posted: July 27, 2009

Michael Kogan, born in Russia, raised in Israel, dreamed of coming to America.

He arrived four years ago, but didn't discover the kindness of Americans until tragedy struck.

Kogan, 28, came on a student visa to join his parents, who had received green cards. He got a driver's license but was not allowed to work. He was taking classes at CMG Computer Center on Street Road.

On the night of April 16, as a favor, Michael had followed a friend to Jersey City, where the friend dropped off a car, and was driving him back to Philadelphia early in the morning.

At 2 a.m., in Middletown Township, Bucks County, Michael saw a woman with her car broken down in the right lane of Route 1. It appeared she had a flat tire.

Michael stopped to help.

"I always do this," he explained. "My habit since I have my driving license."

Michael passed her car, then pulled his 1993 Camry as far over as he could. There was no shoulder.

He said he turned on the woman's flashers, and his, and put out an orange triangle. Traffic slowed, he said, and people went by in the left lane.

"I was sure that nothing bad could happen," he said.

He went to his trunk to get a jack. He was standing between the two cars.

"I didn't hear a sound," he said. "No brakes. I just felt I was flying, over my car, and that's it.

"I was on the ground, trying to figure out what's going on. I see I have no legs. I rubbed my eyes to see more clearly. No legs."

A car had crashed into the woman's car, killing her, and pushing her car into Michael's Camry, severing his legs just above the knees.

But here is the good news.

NBC10 did a story soon after the accident.

After watching, Tim Rayer of Prosthetic Innovations in Eddystone offered to design, construct, and fit Michael with carbon graphite legs - a gift, he says, worth $60,000.

"When word got out about this accident, members of the community - many strangers to Michael - started visiting him just to show support," said Ilya Rabovetsky, part of Northeast Philadelphia's large Russian Jewish community. "A good friend of mine visits him weekly just to keep him company and asked me to join. I was touched by his optimism and kindness."

Maria Breyman, 21, a La Salle University student who came from Russia at 14, organized benefits raising $7,000 to help with expenses.

"He said one phrase to me that made me shiver," she said: " 'We are going to dance soon. I'll get up and I will fall, but I will get up, and fall again, but I give you my word as a soldier in the Israeli Army that I will make you proud.'

"I want to put him back on his feet before he loses that state of mind," she said.

Strangers created a Web site for him, www.help4mike.com.

Jewish Family and Children's Services offered counseling and financial aid.

Michael, whose family has moved from a rowhouse to a one-floor apartment on Philmont Avenue, rocks back and forth in his wheelchair because of pain. He's trying to minimize the narcotics, but nerve endings in his legs are still on fire.

"I can't wait until walking again," Michael said. "It doesn't matter my legs. Different legs. Still legs."

He talked about dancing.

"I almost like the Jackson who died," he said, referring to Michael Jackson.

"Oh, he danced!" said his mother, wiping away tears. She showed a photo of Michael in blue jeans, lanky, at 6-foot-1.

His mother quit her job as a home-health aide to care for him. His father, a computer programmer, supports them.

Killed in the accident was Reyna Castro, 28, of Guatemala. The driver of the car that hit her has not been charged. The police investigation is under review by the Bucks County district attorney.

Michael bought minimal health insurance before the accident and expects it to cover the six surgeries he had.

He has an attorney, Anthony Baratta of Huntingdon Valley, who said the most Michael could win from any lawsuit is $500,000 - insufficient to cover lifelong medical expenses. Artificial legs need replacement every few years.

With a student visa, Michael is not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, or disability.

He hopes to become a citizen and get a job with health insurance.

But that is far from certain.

It may take years before his application for a green card is considered, and there is no guarantee one will be issued.

He has four years left on his visa, assuming he can remain a student.

He is determined to stay in America.

"I have to get back on the horse," said Michael. "School, college - everything that was my dream."

Contact staff writer Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com.

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