The Reality of Hope

The Reality of Hope

(The following blog post excerpt written by Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Jennifer Silvestri has been reposted here with permission.)

Every day I work with individuals whose lives have been drastically changed by paralysis. My job is twofold: first, to provide innovative therapies to help promote recovery and, second, to inspire and motivate my patients to push through the difficult times–sometimes as the encouraging cheerleader, and other times the demanding coach.

In my job, I’ve come to realize that we’re each gifted with a unique set of skills and abilities that allow us to contribute to the world around us. If we’re lucky, perhaps we can even use those talents to inspire and motivate others. But when I started my career in the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute, hoping to make a difference in the lives of my patients, I never expected that my patients would be the ones who constantly inspire and motivate me.

Brian Keefer is a patient whose strength, determination and genuine love for life inspire me in ways that are hard to put into words. In 2008, Brian was paralyzed from the neck down after a gymnastics flip gone awry. Soon after his injury, Brian and his family began making the 140-mile trip from to Kennedy Krieger every day for two weeks during his school breaks. Here, during bouts of intensive therapy, Brian spends five to six hours daily working with our team, all while maintaining a smile and exerting 100-percent effort.

When most people would call it quits, Brian keeps pushing; he knows no boundaries for himself. I have a feeling that it must run in the family. His father Steve, who left his job to become Brian’s full-time caregiver, now accompanies Brian to college each semester and helps him continue the rigorous activity-based restorative therapy program that we’ve designed for Brian to do at home.

Recently, though, the word “home” has taken on a new and unexpected meaning for the Keefer family. You see, Brian and his family have not only motivated and inspired me, but they’ve also inspired countless others, so much so that someone anonymously nominated them for ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. And that’s how, this past summer, Brian’s physician and other therapists joined me in working with the show’s producers and designers to create a wish list and consult on accessible home design, just in case Brian was selected.

On June 19th, 2011, a Father’s Day that Steve Keefer will never forget, we learned that Ty Pennington and the rest of the ‘Extreme Makeover’ cast had pulled their famous bus up to the Keefer family’s Pennsylvania home to surprise them with the news that they would be receiving a dream home. In one week, ‘Extreme Makeover’, Musser Homes and countless other volunteers built this deserving family a new home with an accessible apartment just for Brian, complete with the HydroWorx aquatic therapy pool that we had strongly recommended.

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