By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL – It’s hard to imagine what St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office Deputy Andre Ardeneaux Jr. could do for an encore in 2017.
But then, the young officer for the S.O. is probably hoping things don’t get nearly as exciting as the year he recently concluded.
Ardeneaux was named the St. Tammany Parish “Deputy of the Year” by Sheriff Randy Smith and it’s hard to see how anyone could be more deserving.
The parish motorcycle officer had a year that started in March of 2016 when he saved the lives of two deputies, three parish residents, three cats and two dogs in assisting other emergency responders during the flooding rains that hit St. Tammany Parish.
His emergency rescue involved the use of his 6-foot, 6-inch wingspan from arm-to-arm as he held onto a truck so a rope would have the extra needed reach to an overturned boat in the flood waters, allowing the trapped occupants of the boat to be pulled to safety. Unfortunately, the rescue tore his labrum and injured his bicep so badly that he needed surgery.
Two months later during his recuperation while attending a family party the good times ended in terrifying fashion when his 3-year-old son fell into a pool and was seen at the bottom before his father rescued him, despite still wearing a shoulder strap from surgery.
Then Ardeneaux capped the year by donating a kidney to a fellow officer in St. John Parish who had been severely injured in a shooting incident.
The 33-year-old father of two shrugged off the award and attention by noting there are many others like him on the force.
“There really are so many like me, just as deserving, who would have done just what I did,” he said. “I’m not unique. People I work with are from a culture and a breed where failure is not an option. Others would have done the same thing.”
Getting near the end of high school, Ardeneaux seemed destined for some kind of emergency responder work, although it initially looked like he would be in the military. His father was a 20-year Navy man and his mother worked for 26 years as a nurse. But he said it was an uncle in Jefferson Parish who was a police officer for 36 years who might have given him the biggest push to becoming a St. Tammany deputy.
“I loved talking with my uncle about what he did,” Ardeneaux said. “He said the job was a great one since there was something new every day. There was a lot of personal satisfaction being able to help people.”
Attending Pearl River High School he played football and baseball, but was especially good as a wrestler thanks to his tall frame. He finished third in the state competition and was also among the top students academically.
“I was planning to join the military and wanted to be a Navy Seal, but I have four siblings and one is in the Navy and the closer it got the more I realized I would be away from family a lot,” he said.
In the end he went to UNO to study Engineering, excelling in math subjects. Near the end of college in 2007 he made a decision to join the Sheriff’s Office, working in Corrections and with the SWAT team as an emergency responder, then became a motorcycle traffic officer and a Field Training Officer for new recruits.
“I love the motorcycle guys and also the fact I do crash investigations where I get to use a lot of math skills,” he said.
His adventuresome 2016 began last March during the torrential rains that hit Southeast Louisiana, bringing flooding conditions to St. Tammany Parish.
“Deputy Ardeneaux was actually scheduled for vacation during that time,” Sheriff Smith said. “But when he saw Special Operations called out for the emergency, he cancelled his vacation and reported to work. He is a model law enforcement officer who brings a whole new meaning to the words ‘Protect and Serve.’”
Ardeneaux reported to work as flooding got worse and stayed on the job all day and through the night. He was working an area in Covington where a flatbed truck was moving people out of flooded areas. Suddenly he saw a boat overturn with two deputies, three people and the animals.
“They were trying to get a rope to reach the boat, but it was not quite long enough,” he recalls.
Ardeneaux grabbed one end of the rope and provided the needed 6-feet to reach the boat and the individuals who were trapped.
“I remember how much it was stretching my shoulders and arms as each one got rescued,” he said.
Incredibly, even working through the pain of it all, Ardeneaux continued to work for five days.
“I knew something was wrong, so I avoided doing physical work for five days,” he said with a smile.
Finally going to a doctor to see what was wrong he was informed of the torn labrum and damage to his bicep, requiring surgery.
Almost seven weeks later as his recovery continued he went to a family pool party in Folsom. As they were ending their day, he recalls his 3-year-old son, Noah, in a small wagon.
“We were getting ready to go and suddenly I heard someone ask where Noah was,” he said. “We were right next to the pool and he must have gotten out of the wagon and just like kids will do, stepped into the water not realizing he couldn’t swim.”
Ardeneaux remembers “people screaming that he was at the bottom of the pool.” The deputy tore off his shoulder pad and dove in, quickly getting to the bottom and pulling his son to the top.
“I flipped him over and can only remember hearing people scream. But that’s where our training kicked in,” he recalled. “I went to work, did chest compressions and CPR and in less than a minute he started breathing.”
Ardeneaux credited the Sheriff’s Office for mandatory, annual CPR training for every employee, no matter if they are a street deputy or not.
“It’s still hard to go around water and not think about it,” he said. “But I’m glad we had that training.”
Ardeneaux’s final heroic act—although he hardly sees it that way—was to respond to a story he heard about involving the St. John deputy who was shot in an incident and had lived the past four years “basically imprisoned at his house since he needed a kidney transplant.”
Since he gives blood on a regular basis Ardeneaux asked to be checked to see if he would be a match to donate a kidney and surprisingly he was a perfect match.
“I told my wife about it and she understood that I wanted to do it,” Ardeneaux said. “The deputy and I are both young fathers, we are about the same age and we have a son the same age. For me, the highlight of my day is playing ball in the yard with my kids. He couldn’t do that anymore.”
The transplant went off without a hitch and Ardeneaux was back at work within two months, saying he barely notices anything different in his body after donating the kidney.
The biggest concern for Ardeneaux during the waiting period to see if he would be able to help the deputy was “thinking I would be eliminated as a match. That is what made me nervous. It was truly an honor for me to be able to do that for him,” he said.
His efforts in all cases have been tremendously successful as his son showed no effects of the near drowning and the St. John deputy is living a normal life again.
“What I did last year was nothing my fellow officers wouldn’t do. I know the guys on my left and my right are people I can trust,” he said. “So as for as me, if I can help someone, I’ll do it.”