HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – “I feel great,” said a beaming Mike O’Keefe. “I feel really good.”
Even over a less-than-steady Skype connection, it was pretty clear Friday that O’Keefe’s spirits were as bright as the salmon-colored shirt he was wearing.
It was also clear he’s a far cry from the man we met a few weeks ago. That Mike O’Keefe frequently cried while retelling his harrowing story. O’Keefe, of York County, is an employee of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. His job was to drive a van to toll plazas, pick up the cash, and bring it back to Turnpike headquarters in the Midstate.
But last March, his routine was shattered. A bungled robbery led to three men being killed. Michael witnessed the killings, was shot at, ran for his life and was mentally wounded. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Michael was unable to work. His wife Sharon was robbed of the man she married.
She couldn’t hold back the tears as she spoke of the toll the ordeal has taken on her and their marriage.
“I just want my husband back,” Sharon told us.
For months, she researched trauma treatment facilities. She discovered Sabino Recovery in Arizona. At roughly $40,000, it’s pricey. Sharon mentioned it to O’Keefe’s insurer and workman’s comp, but they wouldn’t agree to pay. Sharon reached out to Sabino, but the facility was waiting until the financial picture cleared up.
But then, a Sabino staffer saw the ABC27 story and told the facility’s CEO to watch it.
“This local news coverage in Pennsylvania,” Sabino CEO Thomas Isbell said. “I came in my office and I watched it and cried for a little bit.”
Isbell was moved and felt he just had to help.
“One way or another, that guy’s coming to Sabino Recovery and he’s coming soon,” Isbell recalls telling his staff.
It became a whirlwind for the O’Keefe’s who flew west; first to appear on an episode of the syndicated show “The Doctors” for a segment on PTSD, then it was on to Arizona and Sabino. Mike’s stay is free of charge, courtesy of Isbell. It is a full-time, in-treatment and intensive facility. Clinical director Peggy Holt says therapy requires unwinding the horrors Mike witnessed.
“Making it safe for him to be able to walk down the street, to live his life again, to be engaged in his relationships, and to really get his life back,” Holt said.
O’Keefe is two weeks into a 35-day program. Sharon is staying in a nearby hotel at her own expense and sees him for a portion of every day.
“We have one foot back on the ground,” said Sharon, who also looks less distraught than a few weeks ago. “Michael is back on earth. He’s headed in the right direction.”
Mike says he’s not where he wants to be yet, but hopes that with a few more weeks under the Arizona sun, and with Sabino therapies, his very dark path will be brightened and his burden lightened.
“I’m ready to dig deeper and continue my journey,” O’Keefe said Friday.
We should note that in our initial report, Turnpike CEO Mark Compton promised to meet personally with the O’Keefe’s. He did arrange a meeting. It was scheduled, but before it could take place, the O’Keefe’s were whisked away to the west.