Where there’s a will, there’s a way

With tears in her eyes, Kathleen Kenna recalled the moment she said her final goodbyes to her husband. She believed she was experiencing her last moments on earth. In a brief moment of consciousness, she awoke from a coma to see her ravaged body surrounded by a forest of plastic tubes. Kathleen remembers feeling extremely cold and thinking, “I can’t leave my husband here alone.”

The photo,by Michael Abrams, appeared in Stars & Stripes, the official newspaper for US military forces overseas.

The quotes are from Brent E. Huffman’s story in the Berkeley graduate school of journalism’s newspaper.

And that’s Kathleen, buried under  all kinds of medical equipment, and surrounded by members of the military 86th Aeromedical Airlift Squadron in Ramstein, Germany, not long after she was terribly injured on September 12.

She was covering the war in Afghanistan for the Toronto Star when a van she was traveling in with three other people, including her husband Hadi Dadashian, was attacked.

A grenade was lobbed through an open window of the vehicle. The grenade rolled under Kathleen’s seat and exploded underneath her. Shrapnel from the blast lacerated her body, ” says Huffman.

I met Kathleen when I was a copy editor with the Scarborough edition of the Toronto Star’s Metrospan newspaper group. She moved on to become a full-time Star reporter and, later, Washington Bureau chief.

 But it didn’t end there. after being injured in the roadside attack, she went on to study at San Francisco State University between 2005 and 2000, Graduating in 2008 and gaining a masters in rehabilitation counseling.

She eventually became deeply involved in helping people who’ve suffered traumatic wounds deal psychologically with their injuries.

I was, and still am, one of the people she helped after I went through a quadruple coronary bypass and a stroke, which caused severe cognitive and visual problems.

In the Star Kathleen writes >>>

I was near-suicidal for some time because of pain and disability, so offered a simple daily prayer to hang on: One. Small. Thing.

In hospital for months, I repeated these words every day, forcing myself to concentrate on one small thing that made life worth living: blue sky appearing through a window high above the bed; Hadi’s sweet face every morning in hospital; my mom and siblings taking turns at my side, from Germany to Canada; the nurse who wept, yanking 100 metal staples from skin grafts.

This practice continued through recovery and only grew as I regained mobility. I celebrated each victory through two years of rehabilitation with such positive affirmations. I learned to walk again with three words: Healthy. Strong. Calm. I assign a word to each step, over and over.

I switch the word order for new challenges. Ten years later, daily gratitude — sometimes in the form of a gratitude blog, to help others suffering from trauma — keeps despair at bay.

Strong faith in God has kept me optimistic. Although I was at the edge of the abyss for years after the attack, it was never so dark that I would fall deliberately. Faith and love gave me the resilience to adjust to disability, job loss and more in the past decade.

“You don’t look disabled.”

This is the most common reaction since my final surgery in 2003, as I moved from anger to adjusting to loss of mobility. I wear a custom-made leg brace, but few see it because I stopped wearing dresses. It took years to accept the disfigurement, scarring and visible shrapnel embedded from torso to ankles. Longer still to accept disability and the loss of independence.

However, I’ve learned to deal with chronic pain, and some days can be grateful for its constant reminder that I can move. And I have found my second career — rehabilitation counselling, working with people with disabilities.

Disability barred me from returning to my Star bureau in India (I needed regular medical care then) so I left journalism — my dream career since childhood. I returned to school to study language, psychology and disability. I needed this: traumatic brain injury (TBI) had affected my speech and cognition and I wanted to be sure of recovery.

Also, I wanted to give back to those who had helped me.

At San Francisco State University’s graduate program in rehabilitation counselling she wrote recently continuing, “I devoted my research and training to helping Iraq and Afghanistan war vets. I later persuaded the department of veterans affairs (VA) to let me join its experts in postgraduate, clinical training in treating TBI and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I graduated with honours, proving that the brain can heal, after near-death.

Jon Newton – myblogdammit