Former WKU professor dies after suffering from coma in Vietnam

Ed Bohlander with his two kids. Bohlander died over the weekend after suffering a fall in Vietnam and being hospitalized with a coma for three months.

Nicole Ziege

Ed Bohlander, former WKU sociology professor who suffered from a coma in Vietnam, died over the weekend, his family and his colleagues confirmed.

Bohlander had suffered for three months from a coma and a secondary infection after a fall during his trip to Vietnam in early April. He received treatment at a hospital in Ho Chi Minh, according to his wife, Crystal Bohlander, in a previous email.

Bohlander went on the trip with his son, Will Bohlander, and his friend in March. After suffering from a head injury, he was placed into a medically-induced coma.

In a Facebook post on June 24, Crystal Bohlander said that returning home by commercial flight was “out of the question” and chartering an “appropriate flight” would have cost about $200,000, which was financially challenging on her and her family.

In that same post, though, Crystal Bohlander said that her husband had been medically cleared to travel by his doctors. She said she tried to reach out to government officials about her and Bohlander’s situation. According to the Bowling Green Daily News, community members helped raise $8,000 for Bohlander’s return through an online funding campaign.

The former professor and his wife became stranded in Vietnam because they were unable to return home together.

On June 25, Bohlander’s family received an email from Allianz Travel Insurance, the family’s travel insurance company, who told them that Bohlander and his wife would finally be able to return home. However, Bohlander died before he could make the trip, due to his brain injury and the antibiotic-resistant infection he suffered at the same time.

Bohlander earned his Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1973. In that same year, he began teaching at WKU. He taught for 35 years at the university before retiring.

Prior to retiring, he received WKU’s Professor Emeritus title and taught courses in penology, crimonology, organized crime, delinquency, law and society and corrections. After retiring, he continued to teach part-time at the university.

Before suffering the fall, Bohlander was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and walked with a cane, said colleague Jerry Daday in an email.

Daday, executive director of WKU’s Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning, was a former colleague of Bohlander’s in the WKU sociology department. He said he remembers his first job interview in November 2003. He had applied to become an assistant professor at WKU, and Bohlander, who interviewed him, took him out to lunch.

“I immediately thought that he would be an amazing colleague to work with,” Daday said.

After learning about Bohlander’s accident, Daday said he always thought that he would recover from his injury.

“He was really special,” Daday said. “He impacted thousands of students while at WKU. I’ll always remember him as someone who cared about students.”

Jim Kanan, associate sociology professor at WKU, said he worked with Bohlander since he started working at the university in 1996. Kanan said he spent many years working in an office across the hall from Bohlander’s.

Kanan said some of his fondest memories with him were simply sitting in his office and discussing world issues. In particular, they discussed criminal justice issues and how they could be integrated into their classes.

One way Bohlander integrated these criminal justice issues into his curriculum was through one of his upper-level penology classes. In the class, Bohlander took his students on four or five optional field trips to prisons around Kentucky, including the Kentucky State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison located in Eddyville, Kentucky.

Cara Adney, one of Bohlander’s former students from 1998, took Bohlander’s penology class and said that it changed her career path. Adney had majored in journalism and public relations prior to taking his class.

Adney said the trip changed the way she thought about the impact of prisons, and she said Bohlander had a large part in that.

“He believed that you needed to see things and experience things instead of just hearing about them,” Adney said, describing him as a challenging and effective professor.

Adney said Bohlander was approachable and that he cared about his students.

“[Teaching] was definitely his heart and his passion,” Adney said.

Ashley Hilger, who graduated from WKU in May this year, was a recent student of Bohlander’s. Like Adney, she took his penology class and she was able to visit the Kentucky State Penitentiary because of it.

Hilger said that during the trip, Bohlander was unable to come with his students into the prison due to his cane so he waited outside. When the students returned, Hilger said she would never forget the conversations that she had with him about the prison system.

“He just encouraged me through that semester,” Hilger said. “I hate that I only got to experience one class with him.”

Hilger said that she would never forget Bohlander as a professor and as a mentor.

“He was just a good man,” Hilger said. “He cared deeply about his students and even more deeply about those incarcerated.”

Kanan said that every interaction with Bohlander was rewarding.

“There was a genuine love and interest that Ed had for every student that came through his classes,” Kanan said.

Kanan said that he has been trying to “wrap his mind” around Bohlander’s death.

“Ed Bohlander is someone that we can never replace,” Kanan said.

Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.