Kristin Kenney '08

Kristin Kenney ’08

From the spring 2008 issue of Assumption Magazine:

Assumption senior Kristin Kenney woke up in a hospital bed with no memory of the horrific car accident that nearly took her life. Driving her Jeep on the way to an internship at Pfizer in June 2006, Kristin suffered bilateral strokes at the wheel. The Jeep drifted from right to left, crossed the yellow line and side-swiped a landscaping truck and its trailer. Rescue workers used the Jaws of Life to free Kristin from the wreckage and airlift her to a Connecticut trauma center. Paramedics feared she wouldn’t survive. The crash nearly severed Kristin’s left arm, which was later amputated. She also sustained a traumatic brain injury, a broken neck, shoulder blade, ribs and collarbone, and a collapsed lung. A second operation involved the removal of bone from her hip and inserting the fragment in her neck to replace her crushed vertebrae.

After a couple weeks of healing, she was transported to a Boston hospital, where she regained her ability to speak and recognized her family, some three weeks after the accident. Kristin was later transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston to recover. Her parents, Norman and Debra, boyfriend (now fiancé) Willis Martin ’05 and two brothers—including Assumption freshman R.J.—have been highly supportive. “My mother and fiancé were with me [in the hospitals] every day, and my father and brothers were there nearly all the time,” Kristin said. “I have an amazing support system.” In addition, people from the Kenneys’ church in Newton organized a fundraiser to assist with Kristin’s medical expenses.

After months of grueling rehabilitation, Kristin returned to Assumption for the spring 2007 semester. “We didn’t expect her to come back short of a full year,” said Dean of Studies Eloise Knowlton, “but she returned in January 2007 and began adapting to a new life with great courage and without fuss.” Kristin is majoring in chemistry and math. She’s a peer tutor in the Academic Support Center and an Augustine Scholar. “She deals with her limitations with humor and a strong spirit,” said Knowlton. “The way she has adapted is nothing short of inspirational.” Allen Bruehl, director of the Academic Support Center (ASC), explained, “I was astounded how she came back to Assumption and her attitude was, ‘I don’t have a disability. I’m going to do what I used to do.’” Bruehl spent 13 years as a disability coordinator at Assumption and admitted that he had never seen a student recover like Kristin.

“I’m unbelievably impressed by her tenacity. She has been very steady throughout her recovery, even on the tough days. Most students with a disability go through a period of mourning or self-pity. Kristin was so focused on getting back to where she was, taking courses and doing well in them. She’s totally acclimated back to where she was and does not see herself as having a disability.” Bruehl eased Kristin back into helping at the ASC, then tutoring, and now he relies on her. “Kristin does particularly well at e-tutoring as well as face-to-face tutoring and helps run the Center. She’s an integral part of our operation and she’s become a role model for other students.” The College made several adjustments to accommodate Kristin’s needs, according to Sharon deKlerk, director of disabilities services. “Everyone at Assumption has been great,” Kristin says,

“From Residence Life to Dean Knowlton, they’ve been very accommodating. Sharon and Allen have helped me solve any problems and [Chemistry] Professor [Brian] Niece has been amazing.” Kristin took courses with Prof. Niece just before the accident, during her first semester back and this semester. “Since she came to Assumption, she had a clear idea of what she wanted to do and she’s been so focused on that.” said Niece. “When she came back after the accident she wasn’t processing things as well as she had prior, but having her in class now, she’s like she was before. I’ve been amazed by how little I’ve had to think about accommodating her. She almost always finds a way to do things herself. She’s one of a kind.” deKlerk explains, “Kristin is driven and determined, which is probably what has made her amazing recovery possible. While she has faced cognitive changes, slower processing, difficulty finding words, she simply works through all of this. The cognitive improvements that have taken place are noticeable. Of course, a student majoring in science with one arm is physically daunting. However, with accommodations, working with a lab partner and absolute determination Kristin has done very well. When it comes to talking about her ‘disabilities’ she uses humor to break the tension. If she needs your help, she lets you know. She refuses to give up, feel bad for herself, or hold herself to a lower standard than before the accident.” The traumatic brain injury also affected Kristin’s reading comprehension, walking balance and peripheral vision. “I’m really lucky,” said Kristin, “that if something had to happen to me, it happened when I was 20. My neurologist said that when she looks at my brain scan, she finds it hard to believe how much brain function I have.” Kristin has a scooter to help her navigate the campus and spent a year learning how to do nearly everything onehanded.

“There are very few things I can’t do,” she said. Kristin also has a computerized myoelectric prosthetic arm with touch pads to operate it, which she admittedly doesn’t use often. “When I have to work in a lab there are things that I can’t do onehanded, so it will be very useful then, which is the main reason I need it.” The crash may have taken her arm and some brain function, but it hasn’t removed her positive attitude and determination to succeed. In May she will graduate, a year later than intended but a much stronger person than she thought possible. Kristin plans to pursue a master’s degree in chemistry at either Northeastern, Tufts, or Boston University this fall. From there, she hopes to earn a Ph.D. and become a college professor. It seems that she has already started teaching others, by example.

Last updated 7/6/11