Families fight for rights to see ailing loved ones - WNEM TV 5

I-Team

Families fight for rights to see ailing loved ones

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Casey Kasem (left) and daughter Kerri Kasem (right). (Courtesy photo) Casey Kasem (left) and daughter Kerri Kasem (right). (Courtesy photo)
Bruce Coverdill (left) and his son Stephen Grzemkowski (right). (Courtesy photo) Bruce Coverdill (left) and his son Stephen Grzemkowski (right). (Courtesy photo)
DAVISON TOWNSHIP, MI (WNEM) -

The family of radio icon and Michigan native Casey Kasem is pushing legislation across the country to protect the rights of people whose family members are incapacitated.

The I-Team spoke to a Mid-Michigan family who has their own tragic story to tell.

“I’ve done so many things. I mean, I’ve started businesses. I’ve traveled. I’ve seen like, 30 out of the 50 states,” Stephen Grzemkowski, 22, said. "I'm at a really cool point in my life, you know, to have my grandpa, who is literally my best friend, that would be awesome."

Growing up, Stephen was hardly ever without his partner in crime – his grandfather Bruce Coverdill.

His grandpa bought him his first car, was there for his first Halloween and was always up for hanging out with his first grandchild.

"I was like his little trophy thing. It was awesome,” Stephen said.

In 2008, just as Stephen was becoming a teenager, his grandfather suffered a debilitating stroke.

Stephen said his family could never have imagined the anguish that followed.

 "It's the most awful, wretched thing that I've ever experienced in my whole life,” Stephen said.

Stephen said the only thing worse than seeing his grandfather – his hero – suffer, was watching his family be torn apart.

"It's horrible. It's horrible for us, but it's even more horrible for my dad,” said Chris Grzemkowski, Coverdill’s daughter.

Chris said what started as a dispute over her father's care got so ugly his second wife, who is his legal guardian, barred her from seeing him. That triggered a nearly 10-year legal battle.

It’s a battle that still weighs on Stephen.

"It breaks my heart to watch how it's affected my family financially, emotionally,” Stephen said.

This past February, their hopes were renewed when the daughter of a celebrity with a similar story joined their fight.

Casey Kasem’s daughter, Kerri, introduced the visitation bill “Kasem Cares” to Michigan’s Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill was created after Kerri and her siblings had a very public battle to see their father during his final days.

The Kasem Cares Bill ensures even if a guardian or power of attorney blocks someone from seeing their loved one, that person can then ask a judge to rule on visitation alone – something judges in most states can’t do right now.

Kasem Cares was first introduced in California, Kerri’s home state, but she refused to stop there.

"I've gotta do this for all 50 states. I've gotta help these people because if I don't, who is? Who's going to," Kerri Kasem said. "And Michigan, being my father's home state, is a really big thing, is a really big thing for me and my brother and my sister that we pass the visitation bill there."

Michigan is one of several states where, once you turn 18, you have no legal right to visit an ailing loved one in an assisted living facility or a residential home unless you are a designated power of attorney or guardian.

State Senator Jim Marleau is spearheading the effort to change that by passing Kasem Cares in Lansing.

He said it will help families avoid lengthy and expensive legal battles and force guardians to prove a friend or family member would present a danger before being able to block them from visiting.

Marleau said it all boils down to one simple principle.

"It's just trying to be able to allow family to be with family and that's the simplest way of putting it,” he said.

The thought of being able to be a family again has Stephen and his mother thinking about all of the catching up they'll have to do.

"Can't make up for it, but, you know, we can make his life better,” Chris said.

Chris said she doesn't know how much longer her father will be around, but she prays whatever time he does have left can be filled with family who love and miss him very much.

"This would mean everything. Everything to us,” she said.

TV5 tried to reach out to Coverdill’s second wife, but none numbers they tried worked.

TV5 did receive one of the court orders. It states all contact and visits were terminated with Chris Grzemkowski because, among other things, Coverdill’s second wife said Chris caused his blood pressure to rise.

Versions of Kasem Cares have passed in 10 states and have been sponsored in 11 others. Senator Marleau is hopeful Michigan passes it this year.

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