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Robert Franzen and the staff of CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson.

A life-threatening accident leads to a transformational gift

CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson Foundation

If you've had the opportunity to meet Robert Franzen, he appears to be a pretty regular guy. He loves fishing no matter the season, from North Dakota’s Lake Sakakawea to Devils Lake. He equally loves surprising kids and brightening their day; he’s been known to donate trucks and dolls to children in the hospital or buy a toy at a store for a child eyeing something their family cannot afford.

When you learn his story, however, it’s anything but ordinary. Robert endured an exceptional hardship, and has turned it into a life of exceptional generosity.

Robert Franzen and the staff of CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson.

Driving his truck west of Mandaree, North Dakota, in January of 2019, Robert was hit head-on by a semi-truck. He later learned the response teams called the accident site “unimaginable.” Somehow, Robert lived.

“I broke everything but my ankles,” he laughs.

He was transported to CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson from the accident scene.

“About the only thing I remember, it seemed somebody was standing by my side all the time. Those nurses just completely took care of me.”

“I almost don’t remember anything [about my time in the hospital]. About the only thing I remember, it seemed somebody was standing by my side all the time. Those nurses just completely took care of me.”

Robert left an impression on the staff as well. When the hospital chaplain stopped in Robert’s room, he requested to hear the rosary. It became clear he did not just want to read the prayer or see it on TV – he was looking for someone to pray the rosary with him. The chaplain called on hospital greeter Mary Jo Privratsky, who remembers what tough shape Robert was in at the time.

“He was working hard to try to talk, and I told him it was ok and that he could just relax.”

Mary Jo was honored to pray the rosary for Robert, who shared her Catholic faith.

Robert doesn’t recall the details of hearing the rosary. However, his memories of visits from a local Catholic sister and priest made him cherish being in a facility where prayer intermingles with healing, regardless of one’s religious affiliation.

“That’s half of it,” he says. “That’s what makes this hospital different.”

Robert was moved to rehab in a long-term care facility, and eventually went home. However, he had months of painful recovery ahead of him. Despite many visits to doctors, physical therapists and chiropractors, Robert had hit a plateau.

“My accident happened in January, and I still couldn’t walk in August of that year.”

Robert had to turn to his own self-motivation. He pushed himself to start water-walking, which led him to short walks, then longer walks. He was making progress.

The masked blessing of a slow recovery at home was the time Robert could spend focused on investing. The right moves at the right time resulted in exciting financial success.

Robert was surprised to find himself financially set — and then some. “It was unbelievable.”

Eventually, he began looking for ways to share his blessings with others. His mind went back to all the faces who helped him through his recovery, including the staff at CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson.

In August 2021, Robert made a transformational gift of $530,000 to CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson Foundation in honor of the hospital’s employees. With it, his goal was simply to say “thank you.”

Reflecting on his experience, Robert shares, “I think you have a really good hospital. That hospital’s not too big, you don’t get lost. I just love that hospital.”

He has been able to give to causes that mean a lot to him, from health care and first responder teams to faith-based organizations. Not many people have the opportunity to give on such a large scale in their lifetime. Robert is happy to share his story in the hopes of inspiring others to give, to whatever degree they are able.

He says that not everyone might understand why he would want to give away so much of his wealth. His simple explanation of 'why' always comes with a smile: “It makes me happy.”

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