|12-27-2002, 02:24 PM||#1|
'I used to be a doer. That's what I miss.' (sci)
'I used to be a doer. That's what I miss.'
BY JENNIFER D. JORDAN
Journal Staff Writer
SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- Kevin T. Cronin will spend Christmas in a hospital -- again.
It will be the third since the May 1997 car accident that paralyzed him from the chest down. One year, he was still in rehabilitation. The other, he had spinal cord surgery.
And that's not counting the second spinal surgery, shoulder surgery and several bladder surgeries Kevin, now 25, has gone through in the last five and a half years.
"Any day I'm not hospital-bound, it's a good day," Kevin said.
This year, he'll spend the holiday in the Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts, recovering from a correction to an earlier bladder surgery -- a common operation for people confined to wheelchairs.
Kevin's mother, Nancy Gillespie, will be at his side. She'll take her homemade peanut-butter cups to the hospital tomorrow, along with some small gifts for Kevin. The big ones she'll leave at their Kingston home, until Kevin returns.
"Hopefully, I'll have him home for New Year's," Nancy said.
Kevin, who has partial use of his arms and drives a specially-designed Ford van, finished his Christmas shopping early, knowing he'd have surgery Dec. 23.
But both Nancy and Kevin say the commercial aspect of Christmas has meant much less to them since Kevin became a paraplegic.
"As far as I'm concerned, I wouldn't even want to exchange presents," Kevin said. "To me, it's just being with my family, having a meal. It's not about material things."
As for the new year, Kevin said he's already thinking about what he will do. If his health holds steady, he hopes to take some classes, perhaps in computer science or architecture, and get a job, eventually.
He speaks in his easy-going, gentle voice. Making people laugh has always been important to him, as he jokes about his height and how his lanky frame folds into his wheelchair.
"I had to wait until I was 6'4" to get paralyzed," he said, smiling.
"I just want to stay healthy, be as productive as I can be and just try to enjoy life."
The list of things Kevin can no longer do is long.
He loved shooting hoops with his life-long friends from South Kingstown. As a kid, he played soccer.
Just 19, he'd completed his freshman year at the University of Rhode Island and was preparing to move into a house in Narragansett with friends, when the car he was riding in one Memorial Day weekend slammed into a stone wall.
The driver, who sustained minor injuries, was drunk. He was sentenced to 19 years in the Adult Correctional Institutions, with three years to serve.
After the accident, Kevin was in rehabilitation for seven months.
He relearned how to swallow.
For two months, he had a tracheotomy and could not speak. He wore a metal halo around his head that required him to lay straight for several months, to help keep his neck straight.
Friends stuck pictures and glow-in-the-dark stars and planets on the ceiling so he'd have something to look at during the long nights.
Before the accident, Kevin was poised on the brink of independence.
After the accident, Kevin and his mother had to adjust as he regressed to almost total dependence on Nancy, who works at URI as the news bureau's office manager.
She sold the small Green Hill home they'd lived in for 20 years and had a house built near URI that accommodates Kevin's wheelchair. Kevin's father, Kevin T. Cronin Sr. and Nancy divorced when Kevin was 5, but he visits his son regularly from his home in Connecticut.
Despite all the changes, perhaps the most remarkable thing about Kevin since the accident is that he's remained essentially the same.
The biggest change is his becoming "much more patient," Kevin said, as he now relies on others to help him with the most basic tasks.
"He's always been very social," Nancy said. "Thank God he didn't have a brain injury because he's still Kevin. He was a happy-go-lucky kid and so compassionate about people, and he's still the same."
Kevin made a point of speaking at the 1998 sentencing hearing of the man who drove the car the night of the accident.
Kevin asked the judge to show mercy.
"He had a sickness, alcoholism," Kevin said. A long prison sentence wouldn't help the driver tackle his problem and could make him more troubled, Kevin said.
While the judge commended Kevin's lack of "revenge and hatred" he went forward with sentencing because of the seriousness of the accident.
When asked what he misses most since the accident, Kevin's answer is immediate.
"Helping people," he said.
Kevin remembers driving the short distance from the URI campus to his grandparent's farm on Route 138 during his freshman year.
At lunchtime, he'd help his grandfather, the late Jerome Cronin, feed his cows.
"I used to be a doer. That's what I miss," he said.
Most of his friends have finished college, gotten jobs, moved away, married.
Kevin has stayed close to a few old friends, including Theo Worden, who went to Matunuck Elementary, Curtis Corner Middle School and South Kingstown High School with Kevin.
"He doesn't look at it as a block on him," Theo said of Kevin's disability. "I don't think I could handle it like him. Now, if I'm tired or hurt, I just push myself through it more because of him, because my friend can't walk."
Kevin and Nancy get depressed sometimes.
They know it's likely Kevin won't walk again, despite advances in spinal cord injury research.
Kevin focuses on "the little things in life" such as spending time with his golden Labrador retriever, Murray, and hanging out with his friends.
"However trivial it may be, I just try to be happy with the smallest of things," Kevin said "You just keep the best attitude you can, because being negative doesn't get you anywhere."
Nancy focuses on the fact that Kevin is still here, that they're together.
After the accident, a counselor helped Nancy realize the son she had before the accident was gone, in some ways.
"I still want him to be happy and productive, and lead a good life and fulfill his dreams," Nancy said. "It's just the dreams have changed. He was going down one road, and now he's going down a different road."
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