Stephen Kennedy’s Story

Fairlawn | 9.13.13

Stephen Kennedy had spent most of his adult life helping others. A U.S. Army veteran and volunteer firefighter-EMT, he loved being a paramedic. It was a way to give back to his community, offer people comfort, make a difference.

But in the spring of 2011, in an ironic twist of fate, Stephen became completely dependent on the care of others.

It was stroke that turned the tables on him.

With pervasive left-side weakness and impaired reasoning, it wasn’t just Stephen’s career that was in jeopardy. Having just bought a new home with the woman he was about to marry, his entire life had suddenly veered off course.

“I couldn’t even stand, never mind walk or feed and dress myself,” recalls Stephen, who was also emotionally paralyzed by the prospect of not being able to start the life he was so joyfully anticipating.

“As a paramedic, I had seen the end side of strokes. I knew how bad it could be. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be bed-bound. I worried I would be a burden to Tracey, this beautiful woman I couldn’t wait to marry,” he says. “I felt helpless and scared.”

That depression was very much a part of what Stephen hoped to overcome when he was admitted to Fairlawn. Fortunately, the intensive therapy he received did as much to alleviate his emotional struggle as it did to improve his physical one.

“Fairlawn’s staff was compassionate yet driven. They did not let me languish. They challenged me – my mind and my body – every single day,” recalls Stephen, adding that a “minimum of five hours of daily therapy” brought great improvements. “I was hungry to eradicate my depression, and my physical accomplishments pulled me out of that.”

Tracey and Stephen relax at the backyard fire-pit he built after his stroke.

Stephen also credits Fairlawn’s physicians and nurses for providing excellent medical care. Noting that a surgery just prior to his stroke had required a colostomy, he says, “I was a very needy patient. Taking care of me was no walk in the park, but they provided a level of care second to none.”

As a healthcare provider himself, Stephen also appreciated his treatment team’s understanding of how sensitivity to the non-clinical, more human aspects of recovery can contribute to a person’s progress. “They realized how important Tracey’s presence was to me and made us both feel very comfortable,” he explains. “And talk about going above and beyond what is expected – when I was feeling a little down about my appearance, my OT even gave me a haircut.”

By the time he was discharged, Stephen was walking. He was also using his left arm and hand to feed and dress himself. “I felt total joy and accomplishment,” he says.

Stephen’s therapists are quick to acknowledge that he brought a tremendous amount of motivation to the table, giving him an unquantifiable edge in his rehabilitation. However, Stephen sees it another way.

Likening his recovery to building a house, he says, “You can have all the right tools and materials, but if you don’t have a blueprint, it’s pretty tough to build a house. Likewise, you can have all the motivation in the world, but if you don’t have the right people and services, you cannot rebuild your life. Fairlawn had the blueprint – they helped me to rebuild my life – and now it is a very happy one.”

Stephen and Tracey, who were married in December of 2012, moved into the house they had purchased just prior to his stroke. And Stephen is back to work as a medical assistant at a veterans’ clinic. “What I took in from Fairlawn I am now giving back to other people again. In a way, I’m paying it forward.”

And that’s all part of the bigger picture for Stephen. “The fact that I am here with both sides working is due to Fairlawn. But I didn’t just get my profession back. I’m married to Tracey, and we have the future we were going to have. Fairlawn brought me back to my dream.”

Stephen now works as a medical
assistant at a veterans’ clinic.

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