A Teen’s Inspirational Road to Recovery from a Severe Brain Injury
Advocacy A severe injury changed Greg Kenney’s life, but it didn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams.
On September 6, 2015, Kenney, then 17-years-old, ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon in Virginia Beach. He was healthy and had trained all summer for the race. But when he was just a few hundred feet from the finish line, he collapsed as a result of cardiac arrest.
On the spot
Adrianna Amarillo, a medical resident who was running just steps ahead of Kenney, heard people calling for medical help. She turned back and performed CPR on the teen until a medical airlift arrived and took him to the hospital.
“He had no oxygen and no blood to his brain for 15 minutes,” recalls his mother, Stephanie Watson, who explains the lack of oxygen left her son with a severe brain injury. “He was completely paralyzed. He was in a coma.”
CT scans and MRIs showed no evidence of a heart attack or heart damage. Doctors couldn’t explain what happened.
Getting special treatment
After being treated at a cardiac and acute care hospital, the Maryland teen received nine months of in-patient treatment at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit, which specializes in treating patients with brain injuries. He then completed six months of outpatient therapy in the facility’s Specialized Transition Program.
When Kenney arrived at Kennedy Krieger, he was unable to speak, move or eat. But thanks to a rigorous physical and occupational therapy regimen, he’s making a lot of progress, like learning to eat and drink. Although his speech is limited, Kenney is now speaking on his own. He still can’t write, however, and has mobility issues on his left side. He also has low vision and double vision.
“He had no oxygen and no blood to his brain for 15 minutes. He was completely paralyzed. He was in a coma.”
Planning his future
This spring, Kenney will graduate high school. Currently in a wheelchair, his graduation goal is to walk across the stage to get his diploma.
Weeks before graduation, the now 19-year-old will travel with his mother to Lourdes, France, the site of many miracles. Kenney’s Christian faith continues to sustain his positive outlook for the future, and he hope others with brain injuries will also “never give up hope.”
A year after Kenney’s collapse, he and his family returned to the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon.
“I knew in my heart we had to go back and finish,” says Greg Kenney, Sr., who pushed his son’s wheelchair across the finish line. Amarillo, the medical resident who performed CPR on Kenney after his collapse, was also at this race. She considers herself the young man’s guardian angel. Months before she saved Kenney’s life, Amarillo found a guardian angel pin on the road. She was also a doctor working at the hospital where Kenney was initially treated.
As a child, Kenney participated in local theatre productions and dreamed of being a Broadway star. He’s still planning to study musical theatre in college next year.
“His dream was always to be on Broadway,” his father says. “And there’s no doubt in my mind that’s where he’ll be.”