In December, on the night before he was required to start three weeks of training as a new sergeant at the Garden Grove PD, Phil Schmidt’s 15-year-old son had to be rushed to the ER.
Schmidt called up incoming Chief of Police Todd Elgin to tell him he wouldn’t make it to training in the morning.
“Don’t worry about it,” Elgin told Schmidt. “Handle your business. Be there when you can.”
It’s been that way, for 15 years — for all of the younger Philip’s life.
Compassion, understanding, support.
These are just some of things Sgt. Phil Schmidt’s co-workers have shown him and his family since Schmidt’s son was born with lissencephaly, a debilitating brain disorder that strikes about one in 750,000 children.
The disorder, which results in a lack of development of the folds and grooves on the brain, has left young Philip unable to talk or walk.
Througout his life, he has suffered countless seizures and since 2004 has used a wheelchair.
Philip attended a special-needs school until the end of 2013, but since then his health has declined.
That’s why his bout with pneumonia in December was so scary.
And that’s why these days, Schmidt appreciates even more the undying support he’s received over the years from his colleagues at the GGPD.
“The Garden Grove PD is a great example of how police officers are — how we take care of each other like a family,” Schmidt said.
“Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t ask me, ‘How’s your boy?’”
The support from GGPD started when Philip suffered a seizure when he was 5 months old.
“I remember calling the department and telling them, ‘I don’t know what’s going on with my son,’” Schmidt said in a recent interview.
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” one of his superiors at the time, then-Lt. Kevin Raney, who would go on to become GGPD chief, told Schmidt.
Sgt. Bruce Prince also told Schmidt to take all the time he needed.
Problem was, Schmidt had limited vacation and sick days – only about a month’s worth.
A few weeks after his infant son had the seizure, numerous GGPD colleagues showed up at the Schmidt residence with a sizeable cash donation and four months of donated catastrophic leave time — the latter the result of a newly implemented policy for city employees.
Employees of the Garden Grove Fire Department and other city employees also contributed to the leave time.
The support was enough to melt the heart of Schmidt, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years before he started working part time as a reserve officer for GGPD.
He was hired as a full-time GGPD officer in September 1988, then went through the academy and graduated in late January 1989.
Schmidt began his career in patrol, worked as DARE officer, was promoted to a master officer and began to train new officers.
He worked the Gang Suppression unit for five years and during that time was promoted to corporal. Returning to patrol, Schmidt resumed his duties as a training officer.
During his career at the GGPD, Schmidt, 52, has been a member of the SWAT team, worked on a neighborhood improvement team, and also was one of the department’s arrest and control instructors.
In January 2015, he was promoted to sergeant.
His wife, Darlene, pinned his new badge on him.
Schmidt met Darlene when she was a records specialist at the GGPD.
“I walked by the counter, saw a beautiful woman with long black hair, and said, ‘I bet you like Italian food,’” Schmidt recalled.
The line worked.
Together, the Schmidts have six children – “two boys, four girls, and no money,” Schmidt said with a laugh.
Schmidt recalled the numerous acts of kindness he’s received over the years from colleagues wanting to help his son, whom doctors initially believed would not live past age 2.
“I had just gotten off the gang unit,” Schmidt said, “and two of my gang unit buddies, Otto Escalante and Jeff Mooney, unknown to me, started a fundraiser for Philip,” Schmidt said.
Then came the donations of catastrophic leave time from his colleagues and other city employees.
“I was floored,” Schmidt said. “I remember thinking, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.”
He recalled his father telling him, “I want you to know how lucky you are working at a place where people take such good care of each other.”
Schmidt calls his son his hero.
“There’s nothing too tough that happens to me during my day than the challenges he has gone through,” he said.
Schmidt estimated that over the years, his son’s disability has resulted in $250,000 in medical expenses he has had to pay out of pocket. The GGPD and GGFD donated $2,000 toward the purchase of a specialized van.
But Schmidt could care less about the money for the priceless gift he and his wife, and other children, received in Philip.
He credits doctors at CHOC Children’s hospital’s satellite campus at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo for saving his son’s life in January 2014.
Philip had been in pain but could not articulate what was wrong. After he was rushed to CHOC at Mission, doctors discovered Philip was bleeding internally from a burst artery.
“They told me he would have died two hours later if he hadn’t have been brought to the hospital,” Schmidt said.
Young Philip loves music and Sea World, and has a big crush on Pocahontas.
“When something like this happens to a family, as a parent, you either fight for your child or give up,” Schmidt said.
There’s no question what Schmidt’s choice was.
“The day my boy is not sitting on my lap,” he said, “he will be in God’s lap.”