Former State Trooper James Mittelstaedt battled alongside more than a thousand fellow police officers to take back Attica Correctional Facility in 1971.
"I led the way out of Cellblock C," he recalled. "That was probably the most dangerous time in my life."
Mittelstaedt faces an even more daunting battle today. The 62-year-old North Tonawanda resident has end-stage renal failure and needs a kidney transplant to survive.
A benefit to defray his medical costs, as well as those of potential donors, will be held between 6 and 10 p.m. Friday in the South Lockport Fire Hall, 5666 S. Transit Road, Lockport.
Since being diagnosed in June, his medical bills have soared to $100,000. Not only that, testing for donors is not covered by insurance.
Born and reared in North Tonawanda, Mittelstaedt was a trooper and then a Criminal Division investigator during his 24-year career with the State Police.
He retired in 1989 and became a criminal-justice professor at Niagara County Community College.
"I love teaching," he said. "I tell the kids, 'I'd rather be teaching you than chasing you.' "
Mittelstaedt's wife, Susan, his son, James D., and his two daughters, Jennifer Drake and Jill Magno, all live in North Tonawanda. They had Thanksgiving dinner together and will share Christmas.
"My family keeps me going," Mittelstaedt said last week. "They're the troopers now."
Mittelstaedt teaches about 400 men and women ranging in age from 18 to their 40s, said professor James Mezhir, a former Niagara County deputy sheriff. Many of the people taking the course are already in law enforcement and furthering their education.
"It's a wonderful feeling to see the kids of former fellow officers in my class," said Mittelstaedt, who was hired because of his background.
"The students hang on every word because he brings the real world of police investigation into the classroom," Mezhir said.
Mittelstaedt, who has a master's degree in criminal justice, received NCCC's Excellence in Teaching Award in 1995.
Niagara County Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein was a sheriff's deputy when he joined Mittelstaedt and other police officers in reclaiming control of Attica.
"I've known him ever since," Beilein said. "He's a great guy to work with, and I'm committed to helping him out of his current predicament."
Mittelstaedt receives dialysis treatment three evenings a week at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst. He will go to Erie County Medical Center on Dec. 11 for a screening to begin the process of finding a kidney donor. There are currently 5,280 people in New York State on a waiting list for kidney transplants, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network in Richmond, Va.
"The response to Jim's situation from the entire college community has been remarkable," Mezhir said. "We just want to get him back."
For information on the benefit, including tickets, call 438-3444 or 692-8770.