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'Good days and bad': Former Fargo detective's head injury tests family's faith in God

FARGO - Fred Lassonde was always known among his fellow officers at the Fargo Police Department as a guy with bad luck.He was always the one who would get in the middle of scraps out on the beat,

Fred Lassonde, a former detective of the Fargo Police Department, had to give up his job and sell his home as a result of continuing symptoms from a concussion he suffered while working on a truck at home in March. David Samson / The Forum
Fred Lassonde, a former detective of the Fargo Police Department, had to give up his job and sell his home as a result of continuing symptoms from a concussion he suffered while working on a truck at home in March. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO - Fred Lassonde was always known among his fellow officers at the Fargo Police Department as a guy with bad luck.

He was always the one who would get in the middle of scraps out on the beat, and suffer a few scratches and scrapes himself. He was always the one who found the dead bodies.

But nothing could have prepared him for the string of misfortune he's experienced in 2017.

On March 3, Lassonde was at home south of Lake Park, Minn., where he lived with his wife, Anna, and their two young children, Aviana and Silas. He had taken a Friday off from work and was in his garage working on a 1999 GMC truck he'd purchased to turn into a plow vehicle.

He was on his back underneath the truck, loosening the bolts on the skid plate that protects the underside of the vehicle, but was having trouble getting it off. He started loosening the last bolt when it suddenly sprung out of the frame and hit him in the head - in the right temple.

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He'd been banged up plenty on the job and when he was a mechanic prior to becoming a police officer, so he didn't think much of it at the time. Anna came out to the garage when she heard a loud crash, but he told her he was OK, and went back to work.

But Lassonde wasn't OK and still isn't.

The consequences of that injury have completely upended their lives. He had to quit his job. Anna, who'd been a stay-at-home mom, had to go to work. Their household income is a fraction of what it used to be. They had to sell their house and move to a smaller one.

Just when it seemed like life couldn't get much worse, they lost virtually all of their possessions when a storm two weeks ago ripped off the roof of a storage facility where they'd stored all their furniture and other household goods while waiting to move into their new home.

"I feel like someone put my life in a box," Anna said, "and shook it up."

Rush to the ER

Lassonde, 34, woke up on the Saturday morning after getting hit in the head and still had a headache. A bump had formed on his temple. But he's a police officer, tough and resilient like police officers have to be, and he figured he would feel better gradually.

On Sunday, he went to church with his family, returned home, ate lunch and then he and Anna took the kids to a city park in Lake Park. When he got out of the car, he started to feel wobbly, like he was standing on a boat.

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When the kids finished playing at the park, he tried to drive home. But he began to see double. He was nauseous. Then the left side of his face went numb. That happened on the opposite side from where he was hit, so he didn't even connect it to the injury.

Lassonde has a history of strokes in his family, so Anna rushed him immediately to the emergency room in Fargo.

He was diagnosed with a concussion, which doesn't sound like a life-changing injury but it has been. Recovery times from concussions, even ones in which a person doesn't lose consciousness, can vary greatly and are unpredictable.

Some people recover quickly, get a little better each day, and are back at work or school in a few days or a week. In other cases, the symptoms can persist for months and even years.

Lassonde got worse before he got better. He had difficulty carrying on a conversation. He couldn't drive. He couldn't work. He couldn't take care of his kids.

Seven months after his injury, he's still recovering. He's prone to dizziness. He gets tired easily. His short-term memory has suffered, and he has difficulty making decisions. He goes to cognitive therapy every week in West Fargo. How he feels varies from one day to the next.

"If I get myself into a stressful situation, I get dizzy and sometimes feel like I'm going to pass out," he said. "If I push myself too hard, my symptoms come on very quickly. It will have a multiple day impact. If I push myself for three days, I pay for it for about a week."

When Lassonde didn't get better and it became clear he wouldn't be able to return to work quickly, his wife, Anna, had to get a job. She works at a nursing home in Detroit Lakes, but it "pays beans" compared to what Fred earned as a police officer. They had to put both kids in day care because Fred didn't feel well enough on many days to care for them.

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"He has good days and bad days," Anna said.

'I wanted to help'

Lassonde grew up in Rolla in north central North Dakota, and he met Anna at church there. Her dad was an Assembly of God minister. Fred's parents farmed. She was older than him, and they broke up when she left town after graduating high school. But they kept in touch, and he never dated, hoping they would get back together.

Anna eventually moved to Fargo with friends, and he followed her in hopes that they would reunite, and they did. He worked as a mechanic. They married in 2005. He then entered North Dakota State University to study criminal justice, with the hope of becoming a police officer.

"I wanted to help people," he said. "It seemed like a way to both help people and have a career. It was something I always thought of doing as a kid."

Lassonde graduated from NDSU in 2009 and entered the police academy that summer. He was hired by the Fargo Police Department upon graduation.

He was a patrol officer for six and a half years, and then was promoted to detective, working on property crimes at first. After six months, he was promoted to the personal crimes team.

"I always wanted to be a detective," he said. "It seemed like the pinnacle of police work, trying to solve things. I have an analytical mind. I like to problem solve. That's also the attraction of mechanic work."

'A different path'

Lassonde went on medical leave when he wasn't able to return to work after his injury. He had two weeks of unused sick time, but quickly used that up. Then he used up his vacation time, another three weeks.

Fargo Police Chief David Todd then asked city workers for donations of vacation time to help him out. They donated hundreds of hours.

"We wanted to get Fred more time to recover in hopes that he would be able to return to work," Todd said. "We like Fred a great deal. He's a top-notch detective. He was a very valuable employee and a friend to many."

Eventually, Lassonde used up all of the donated vacation time, too, so he had to make a decision about his future. Both he and his wife are deeply religious, and one Sunday in church, the minister, in the middle of a sermon on an unrelated topic, said "God might be telling someone here it's OK to quit his job, and He will take care of him."

Lassonde was surprised by what he heard. He hadn't discussed his health problems with his minister. When he asked the minister about it after the service, the minister said he had not planned to say what he said. It wasn't in his notes. He didn't know why he said it.

"I had been praying about this," Lassonde said. "I felt like this could be a sign, that God might be leading me down a different path."

The very next day, Lassonde informed the police department he was resigning. His resignation became effective on July 28.

Struck by a storm

The decision to quit his job imposed new stress on Lassonde and his family. They couldn't afford their mortgage payments on Anna's income, so they decided to sell their house in Lake Park. They had moved there three years before because Fred needed greater separation from his job. Living in Fargo, it felt like he'd see suspects everywhere he went.

The home sits on 2.75 acres about 10 miles south of Lake Park. It is a three-bedroom, two-story house, with a two-car garage. There is a small pond on the property.

"It's beautiful," Anna said.

The house sold in five days. They struggled to find a new home they could afford. They rented an apartment that was under construction but found out it wouldn't be ready in time. Finally, they bought a small, two-bedroom house in Detroit Lakes. It's just 988 square feet, half the size of their old house.

The house needed painting and other cosmetic work before they could move in, so they put all their household goods in storage and lived for two weeks at a religious camp on Pelican Lake. It was during that time that the storage facility where they'd put all their belongings was damaged in a storm, its roof ripped off. Nearly everything they owned was destroyed.

The only furniture they had when they moved into their new home were two air mattresses and a couple of plastic outdoor chairs. They've since purchased beds. Friends donated dresses for the kids. They're still waiting to hear if insurance will cover any of their losses from the storage facility.

Lassonde maintains some hope that he will be able to return to police work eventually, but if he cannot he will probably become an auto mechanic. In fact, he's been repairing cars at home to earn some cash when he feels well enough to do it. He envisions someday opening his own auto repair shop.

In the meantime, family, friends, police officers and members of their church, Community Alliance Church in Detroit Lakes, have stepped up to help Lassonde and his family.

After their household goods were destroyed in the storm, Anna's sister, Sarah McKay, set up a GoFundMe site to raise money for them. It has raised over $2,300.

At 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, Lassonde's police co-workers will hold a benefit for the family at the Copper Ridge Event Center in Fargo. It will feature a spaghetti dinner, bake sale and silent auction.

Then in November, the Fargo Police Department will donate all money it raises from its annual "No Shave Movember" fundraiser to the Lassondes. For a donation, male officers can grow a beard or mustache, an exception from department policies, and females can paint their nails police blue or have a thin blue line in their hair.

"We have faith in God that He's going to provide for us through all this," Anna said. "People keep coming out to help us through these things. It's been quite amazing. This has been a huge test of faith, but if anything my faith has grown stronger. I know things will get better."

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