Twenty-eight years later, his mental toughness and personal resolve has led to his being selected as a recipient of Sharp HealthCare Foundation’s 24th annual “Victories of Spirit” event that celebrates the power of physical rehabilitation and the strength of the human spirit.
Held May 30, the event, held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, honors extraordinary individuals and community organizations for their inspirational achievements and contributions to others.
“The honorees are former rehabilitation patients who have overcome personal tragedy with courage and strength,” said David Brown of Sharp HealthCare.
Interviewed at his Pacific Beach condominium where he lives unassisted, Kennedy talked about his long road back to recovery, which began with rehabilitation, relearning how to walk and talk.
“It was a lot of rehab with a therapist,” said Kennedy.
He said he was in intensive rehabilitation for several months after emerging from the coma.
“It was a relearning period,” said the former bartender, who added his first big goal was simply to live unassisted.
“It was just baby steps to see what his function was and how he could live independently,” said his mother, Phyllis Specht, of the initial phase of Kirk’s long recuperation.
Kennedy said mastering simple tasks like learning how to handle a fork and knife was a real challenge at first. But he relearned.
Part of the process though, Kennedy admitted, was also learning to live with additional limitations.
“I could walk,” he said. “But I couldn’t surf.”
Kennedy credits “patience and a lot of determination” as the reasons behind his recovery and self-sufficiency.
These days, Kennedy’s found a renewed purpose in life giving back to others. He accomplishes that through the homemade pillows and wall hangings he makes and donates to patients at Children’s Hospital.
“I’ve given 40 of them to Children’s Hospital,” Kennedy said, adding some take a month or more to make. Pointing to a wall hanging in his home, Kirk said, “That took two months to make.”
Kirk’s mom, a retired clinical lab technician, said she’s proud of her son and his recuperative spirit and drive.
“Most people with serious head injuries who are hurt both mentally and physically — only about 20 percent of them survive,” she said.
Specht said her son’s tragic accident should serve as an example to others because he had full health insurance through his job, which helped immensely with finances during his recovery.
“You only get a limited amount of help from disability and Social Security,” she said, noting Kennedy’s hospital bill was $269,000, a catastrophic amount to someone unprepared.
“Thank God for insurance,” she said. “If not, he would not be in the position he’s in now.”
Programs benefiting from 2014 Victories of Spirit include:
• adaptive sports programs, including adaptive water sports, wheelchair tennis, quad rugby and wheelchair lacrosse;
• challenged women’s support initiative, which provides volunteer and employment opportunities, education and peer-support services to women living with physical disabilities in San Diego;
• traumatic brain-injury support programs, which include services like adapted-driving assessment and training, community integration, peer support and mentoring programs and neuropsychological services; and
• General Rehabilitation Fund, which allows Sharp Rehabilitation Services to fund programs and services as needs arise throughout the year
For more information, visit www.sharp.com/rehab.