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Valley News Dispatch

Leechburg police chief’s future shaped by ancient medicine

Chuck Biedka

A local cop for most of his adult life, Mike Diebold doesn’t strike one as a guy who would be concerned about having his body energy meridians aligned.

And three months ago, he wasn’t.

But when Diebold, Leechburg’s police chief, suffered the loss of part of an arm in a fireworks accident in June, his life changed and so, too, his opinions about ancient medicine.

Just a little more than two months ago, Diebold’s heart stopped — twice — but he was revived aboard a helicopter rushing him to UPMC Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh.

Minutes earlier on the night of June 24, Diebold, who is a licensed pyrotechnic, was setting off fireworks at the Leechburg firefighters’ carnival like he has for years.

But, this time, an aerial firework somehow came out of the mortar tube and exploded prematurely.

Diebold’s left arm was severed, and he suffered lesser facial wounds that left it cut and swollen.

This week, his eyes and face are about back to normal, and there is one small scar on his cheek “so I don’t forget to tell the story about what happened.”

Like most police officers and medics, Diebold is no stranger to graveyard humor.

Of course he can’t forget. About a week ago, he was fitted for two types of prosthetic arm.

And he’s soon to participate in two lab studies at the University of Pittsburgh in concert with UPMC. One study involves a very sophisticated artificial arm. The other deals with pain.

“I’m also going to be a male model,” he joked. “No — not going nude for an art class. The hospital system asked if medical students could use my stump to learn how to make an artificial arm and I said yes.

“If someone else can learn from this, I want to do it.”

His goal is to reclaim as much of a normal life as he can, including going back to work as a police officer. Diebold, 40, has worn a badge for 21 years.

He said he still needs financial help.

Old problem, even older solution

Still, Diebold is living with “phantom” pain — that’s all too real.

According to a Mayo Clinic report, “Doctors once believed this post-amputation phenomenon was a psychological problem, but experts now recognize that these real sensations originate in the spinal cord and brain.”

In addition to physician’s care and rehabilitation, Diebold is getting treatment from Ted Cibik, executive director of Inner Strength, Inc., based in Gilpin, only a few miles from the Diebold farm.

Cibik uses naturopathy and traditional Chinese medicine and techniques to promote healing.

Acupressure is among the things he is using to help Diebold with the residual pain.

“I can feel my arm and my hand even though they aren’t there any more,” Diebold told Cibik during a recent session.

Cibik also is using an ancient Chinese method involving “Chi,” or the body’s natural power. By unblocking “power centers” in the body, patients can work on reprogramming their brains to reduce pain sensations like the ones Diebold is experiencing.

“It feels like my fingers are loosening up,” Diebold said of his now-absent left hand. “They are less cramped.”

The older medicine is part of a modern hospital system.

“Phantom pain is persistent pain,which is localized to the missing limb,” said Dr. Ronald Glick, medical director of the UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine.

Using a prosthesis can sometimes cause this pain to gradually reduce, he said. Other therapies that may also help include medication, physical therapy, acupuncture, acupressure and mind-body therapies, like Chi energy.

Normalcy is the goal

There are other things that the home carpenter and shade tree mechanic wants to tackle, just like before the accident.

When Diebold bought a Gilpin farm and had a house built, he added a three-car garage. He installed a lift so he can replace the engine of a 1965 Mustang he is restoring.

To change his 4-month-old son Kyle’s diaper, Diebold had to stop to think. He went to the garage and retrieved three items: a large bolt and two small bungee cords.

After putting on the shield that covers his stump when an artificial arm is used, Diebold made a way to lift the baby’s legs so he can use his right hand to clean up dirty diapers. The bolt holds the bungee cords that are used to hold and lift the boy’s legs.

“Kyle now arches his legs when I come in with the get-up on,” Diebold said, a sparkle in his eyes.

Two weeks ago, his wife helped him to do a brake job.

He talked her through the job and helped where he could.

“She was my left arm.”

Fundraisers ongoing

Numerous fundraisers are underway.

Diebold and his wife, Danielle, will need about $100,000 to pay for the two artificial arms, a simple one for work and a higher-tech arm.

Volunteers are selling chances for tickets in a PPG Paints Arena skybox for a Pittsburgh Penguins game donated by the Tribune-Review.

Diebold said he remains upbeat most of the time. He has some bad days but tries to focus beyond himself.

“What can I do to help Danielle, our son, Kyle, and my teenage stepdaughter, Gracie?”

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or [email protected] or on Twitter @ChuckBiedka.


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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold gets treatment for phantom pain from Ted Cibik at Cibik's clinic on Wednesday, Aug., 30, 2017. Diebold lost part of an arm in a fireworks mishap at the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Company's annual carnival in late June.
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Courtesy of the Diebold family
Gilpin resident Mike Diebold came up with a simple solution that allows him to change his baby son's diapers: he rigged up a large bolt and two small bungee cords to his severed left arm.
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Courtesy of the Diebold family
The Diebolds, from left, stepdaughter, Gracie Reinke; wife, Danielle; husband, Mike; and, son, Kyle (foreground).
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold gets treatment for phantom pain from Ted Cibik at Cibik's clinic on Wednesday, Aug., 30, 2017. Diebold lost part of an arm in a fireworks mishap at the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Company's annual carnival in late June.
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Michael Swensen | Tribune-Review
Mike Diebold, 39, of Gilpin hugs his fiancée, Danielle Reinke, at Christ the King Church during a fundraiser to help raise money for his medical bills on Thursday, July 6, 2017.
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Michael Swensen | Tribune-Review
Community members gather at Christ the King Church parish hall in Gilpin to watch Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold be escorted into a fundraiser on Thursday, July 6, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold speaks to the media before leaving UPMC Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh on Thursday, July 6, 2017. Diebold's fiancee, Danielle Reinke, is at left and a hospital representative is at right.
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Michael Swensen | Tribune-Review
Officer Mike Diebold, 39, of Gilpin, hugs a community member at Christ the King Church during a fundraiser to help raise money for his medical bills on Thursday, July 6, 2017.
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Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Local businesses show their support for Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold along Third Street on Thursday in Leechburg. July 6, 2017
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Gracie Reinke, 14, of Leechburg, watches her soon-to-be stepfather, police Chief Mike Diebold, speak to the media before leaving UPMC Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh on Thursday, July 6, 2017.
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Michael Swensen | Tribune-Review
Community members gather at Christ the King Church in Gilpin for a fundraiser on Thursday, July 6, 2017, in support of Officer Mike Diebold and his recovery.
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Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Local businesses show their support for Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold along Third Street Thursday, July 6 in Leechburg.
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Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Local businesses show their support for Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold along South Leechburg Hill Road on Thursday in Allegheny Township. July 6, 2017
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Michael Swensen | Tribune-Review
A patriotic hat sits on a table where community members could buy food tickets for the fundraiser for Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold, who recently suffered a major injury involving fireworks.
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Michael Swensen | Tribune-Review
T-shirts were made to help raise money for Officer Diebold's medical bills.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold kisses his wife Danielle Reinke during their wedding ceremony outside the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Co. garage on July 12, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Tina Reinke pins a flower onto Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold as his bride, Danielle Reinke, looks on, at the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Co. on July 12, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold embraces his wife Danielle Reinke during their wedding ceremony outside the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Co. on July 12, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Danielle Reinke is walked down the aisle by her grandfather Daniel Reinke, 70, of Leechburg during her wedding ceremony outside the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Co. on July 12, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold is hugged by cousin Tammi Miller before his wedding ceremony outside the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Co. on July 12, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Danielle Reinke looks on as Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold speaks to family and friends before his wedding ceremony outside the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Co. on July 12, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold speaks to family and friends before his wedding ceremony outside the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Co. on July 12, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Gracie Reinke, 14, wipes a tear after the ceremony of Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold and her mother, Danielle Reinke, held outside the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Co. on July 12, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Danielle Reinke is welcomed by friends upon her arrival to the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Co. for her wedding ceremony on July 12, 2017.
vnddiebold01083117
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold gets treatment for phantom pain from Ted Cibik at Cibik's clinic on Wednesday, Aug., 30, 2017. Diebold lost part of an arm in a fireworks mishap at the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Company's annual carnival in late June.
vnddiebold03083117
Courtesy of the Diebold family
Gilpin resident Mike Diebold came up with a simple solution that allows him to change his baby son's diapers: he rigged up a large bolt and two small bungee cords to his severed left arm.
vndDiebold4083117
Courtesy of the Diebold family
The Diebolds, from left, stepdaughter, Gracie Reinke; wife, Danielle; husband, Mike; and, son, Kyle (foreground).
vnddiebold02083117
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold gets treatment for phantom pain from Ted Cibik at Cibik's clinic on Wednesday, Aug., 30, 2017. Diebold lost part of an arm in a fireworks mishap at the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Company's annual carnival in late June.
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