More than three years after Mark Priebe suffered an injury that ended his law enforcement career, the now-retired officer is still amazed by the outpouring of support he received from his community.
Now that community has a chance to help other first responders — and dozens of local hospital patients.
The Priebe Strong Foundation is teaming up with Community Blood Center of the Ozarks to host the inaugural Priebe Strong Blood Drive, sponsored by the Republic Area Chamber of Commerce.
The public is invited to donate from 1 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 12, at the Republic School District central offices. For each successful blood donation, CBCO will donate $10 to the Priebe Strong Foundation, which provides financial support to southwest Missouri first responders severely injured in the line of duty.
The foundation’s mission is exceptionally personal for Priebe, who was paralyzed from the waist down when a man ran him over during an incident at Springfield police headquarters in June 2020. Priebe retired from the force and now works as the school safety coordinator for the Republic School District.
“So many people here in this community – in Springfield, Republic and surrounding areas – have stepped up and helped us when we were in a time of need and wanted to help us out,” Priebe said. “This is our way of trying to give back.”
‘HERE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE’
Days after learning he would likely never walk again, Priebe found himself hundreds of miles away from home at a rehabilitation hospital just outside of Denver. Countless cards and gifts began arriving from southwest Missouri — and all over the country — with total strangers writing to tell Priebe he was in their prayers.
As Priebe and his family began to imagine what their new normal would look like, that level of support helped them push through some of their most difficult days. Those well-wishers helped Priebe realize that even though his time in law enforcement was over, a new opportunity awaited the family at home.
“All these people were rooting for us, be it by prayers, by notes, whatever,” Priebe said. “They were rooting for us to succeed and continue to live our lives even though they were going to be different. We can still live and we’re still here to make a difference.”
That eventually led Priebe and his wife, Heather, to create the Priebe Strong Foundation. Heather is also a former first responder, spending 20-plus years working for local emergency medical services providers.
As both have seen the importance of having blood available in emergency situations, partnering with the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks was a natural fit.
“It’s an organization that is out there making a huge difference for people that are injured and hurt severely that need blood here specifically in the Ozarks,” Priebe said. “I thought what better of an organization to team up with to help them, but also to raise funds to help our first responders.”
‘IMPERATIVE TO A LOT OF LIVES’
CBCO is the only organization that provides blood, plasma and platelets to 44 healthcare facilities in northwest Arkansas, southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri — including Mercy Hospital Springfield, where Priebe was initially treated before he was med-flighted to the rehabilitation hospital.
While Priebe does not recall receiving a blood transfusion during his recovery, he has seen many first responders – and citizens – whose lives have been impacted by the generosity of local blood donors.
“I’ve had co-workers in the police department – Aaron Pearson is one of them – that needed blood transfusions and officers that I know and have met or know about that have needed those donations and that blood because of injuries they’ve sustained at work,” Priebe said. “The importance of keeping the shelves full and having everything available to our Ozarks area is imperative to a lot of lives.”
Pearson was shot in the head while on duty in January 2015, and needed 20 units of blood from CBCO donors during his recovery. Priebe was one of the first officers assigned to stay with Pearson in the hospital.
“The blood transfusions made a difference in Aaron’s survival — and I think he’s spoken and (Aaron’s wife) Amanda has spoken to that in the past,” Priebe said. “But being there with him, it was kind of surreal that he was going through that and they were going through that and that he needed the blood to help stay alive.”
At that time, Priebe had no way of knowing that he’d be critically injured five and a half years later.
‘I KNEW SOMETHING WAS WRONG’
On June 9, 2020, Priebe was working as a crime prevention officer at Springfield Police Department headquarters. He and some fellow officers responded to a report of a disturbance outside the building and spotted a vehicle matching the description pulling into the parking lot.
Priebe motioned for the driver to park the vehicle. What happened next changed his life forever.
“He looked directly at me and turned the steering wheel and gunned his SUV at me,” Priebe recalled. “I was unable to get out of the way in time. I actually got run over and trapped underneath the vehicle. I remember where I was losing consciousness because of how I was positioned under there.”
Priebe’s fellow officers took the driver into custody and rolled the SUV off Priebe. They began administering first aid while waiting for emergency medical services to arrive on scene.
“I knew pretty quick after the vehicle was rolled off me that I couldn’t move my legs,” Priebe said. “I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t feel anything.”
Priebe was transported to Mercy Hospital Springfield, and his wife arrived a short time later. Doctors informed Heather that her husband suffered a spinal cord injury in the attack and was paralyzed.
Though his life was going to look radically different, Priebe vowed to learn how to become as independent as possible. Support from the community helped him progress along that journey.
“Knowing that there are still people out there that care about their first responders and want to be there and support them in whatever way they can just motivated me and motivated our family,” Priebe said.
‘SO MANY MADE A DIFFERENCE’
A few months after he returned home from Colorado, Priebe encountered a setback on his road to recovery.
The spinal cord injury aggravated an existing issue with his kidney, and he was placed on dialysis. Priebe wound up receiving a transplant in September 2021. His donor was a 22-year-old police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty for the Independence Police Department near Kansas City.
Shortly after that, plans for the Priebe Strong Foundation were finalized.
“It’s our purpose and our goal to give back and make a difference in others’ lives — and that’s because so many made a difference in our lives,” Priebe said.
‘THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH’
Just like Priebe’s organ donor, people who give blood to Community Blood Center of the Ozarks also give the gift of life. Without them, local hospitals would not have what they need to treat local patients.
“It could cost somebody their lives,” Priebe said. “Without those donations and having that stockpile through (Community Blood Center of the Ozarks), it could honestly mean the difference between life and death.”
The Priebe Strong Blood Drive offers donors yet another chance to join their local first responders in the effort to save lives.
CBCO has held annual blood drives to honor Officer Pearson, collecting hundreds of lifesaving donations in the event’s six-year history. CBCO also hosts special Blue Blood Drives with Arkansas Concerns of Police Survivors, a nonprofit that provides resources to the families and co-workers of fallen officers, and teams up with local first responders for special Boots & Badges drives all throughout the Ozarks.
That level of community support — not just for first responders, but also for their neighbors — is part of what makes the Ozarks such a special place for the Priebe family.
“There are a lot of caring people,” Priebe said. “A lot of people that it’s not about themselves and the hustle and bustle of their lives. People who will stop what they’re doing and help a neighbor, help a stranger. There are just a lot of caring people, a lot of caring organizations and people that will step up when somebody needs help.”
Every blood donation has the potential to help as many as three people in local hospitals, meaning blood donors are also supporting the Priebe Strong Foundation’s goal of making an impact in the Ozarks.
“The difference they make may save a life,” Priebe said.
Donating to the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks allows more than 40 local hospitals to continue to provide lifesaving treatment to friends, neighbors and loved ones here in our communities. There is no other organization that supplies blood and blood products to these hospitals, who rely exclusively on CBCO donors to help patients. What kind of stories will your donation inspire? Click here to find a drive near you.