Community Comes Together to Help Local

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Malibu Local Katie Row and Thor Cotterli

On Feb. 27, Thor Cotterli — despite running a very high temperature — made a shopping trip to Pavilions market. He fainted and collapsed at the store, and was taken to a hospital in Thousand Oaks by ambulance and admitted as a “John Doe.” 

Cotterli, 50, moved to Malibu 16 years ago. Known as a person of modest means, Cotterli (aka Thor Rienow) has worked at a number of part time and temporary jobs around town, including as a caretaker for the elderly and acting as stage and site manager for the Malibu Playhouse. He has an 11-year-old horse, “Charleyhorse.”

Cotterli knows many people in Point Dume and Western Malibu — he sings in the choir of the Malibu United Methodist Church, is always ready to help local organizations in need by hauling and moving things in his pick-up truck, knows many fellow horse lovers and is part of an informal local “koffee klatch” that meets most mornings at the Trancas Starbucks or Vintage Grocers. 

After Cotterli was admitted to the hospital, all of the people who were used to seeing him every day at coffee, etc. began asking around about where he was and what happened to him. Finally, after about five days, his friends eventually located him in the hospital.

Cotterli spent the first two weeks in intensive care unit (ICU), where only relatives were allowed to visit. The Malibu locals conspired and decided to pass themselves off as relatives in order to be able to visit him in the ICU, which they did almost every single day for one month, until Cotterli was released on March 28.

Local Katie Row sat with Cotterli in the hospital every day after she got off work. “When he was still in a [medically induced] coma, I held his hand and talked to him so he’d have a connection to the outside world,” she said. “As he came out of the coma, his sense of humor was intact, so we joked. Every day I’d make him guess who I was, like the movie ‘50 First Dates.’

“When he knew my name on the phone, I knew he’d make it. Once he started walking, we took walks in the hospital, and he was soon able to read books again.”

During that time, a close friend looked through Cotterli’s belongings to see if they could find some clue about how to contact his mother. They found an envelope with a woman’s name and address in Germany, assumed it was his mother, and were able to contact her through the German police. She took the first available flight from Munich to come to his bedside. Friends paid for the mother’s flight and put her up in a motel near the hospital.

The fact that Cotterli survived and is now released from the hospital has made for a very happy outcome.

“He’s a miracle, and I’m so grateful everybody helped him with financial support and prayers,” local friend Maggie Luckerath said. “He came from a deathbed.”

Unfortunately, Cotterli isn’t out of the woods yet. He needs money for medical rehabilitation. Local Denise Kautter set up a GoFundMe account for him called “Thor’s Medical Rehabilitation Fund,” which has, as The Malibu Times went to print, raised $12,335 from 24 people in 16 days out of a requested $50,000.

“He’s touched a lot of hearts. What I’ve learned through this fundraising is that so many people love Thor and are connected to him,” Luckerath said.

Cotterli will need long-term physical, occupational and speech therapy to recover from several small strokes induced by a seizure. Friends have arranged physical therapy activities and are driving him to medical appointments in Thousand Oaks. But they say the key to his recovery is long-term, suitable living arrangements. At the moment, he’s relying on the kindness of friends for a place to stay, as his former living space is no longer available. His horse is being temporarily boarded by a Malibu local in Ojai.

“What we really need is a place for him to live now,” Luckerath said. “If anyone has a place for him, please email the [Malibu United] Methodist Church. The ideal situation would be a small ranch where he can keep his horse and do maintenance, grounds keeping and animal care in exchange for rent, but even a nice room would be a big help.”

Malibu United Methodist Church can be reached via email at malibuumc@malibuumc.org. For more information or to donate to Cotterli’s GoFundMe, visit gofundme.com/tmvf7k9c.