Inspiring Stories

An unimaginable surfing injury left Mike Fritschner paralyzed at age 15. He thought he had lost everything, until he gained back even more.

I was surfing with my dad on a family vacation in Hawaii in 2006. I stood up on a wave and felt a small pop in my back, which began to hurt. I paddled in and tried to stretch my back, but it just kept hurting more. I felt my legs getting really tired. I walked a few feet and collapsed. That was the last time I was really able to feel my legs. I was 15.

I experienced a rare injury called surfer’s myelopathy. While I was surfing and turning to look back at the wave, my back hyperextended, which cut the flow of blood to my spine, causing some nerves to die.

My plan had been to become a professional quarterback. I told my dad that without my athletic ability, I wasn’t anything. He said that I was much more than an athlete and that we would get through this together. At that moment, I knew I would never use being in a wheelchair as an excuse not to do something or let it define who I am.

3-year-old Sanayah is thriving despite spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
Sanayah

No one needs to tell Eric Pineiro that life can change in an instant. That moment for him was June 20, 2015. He was driving his wife and 2-year-old daughter, Sanayah, home from the mall when a drunk driver swerved into their lane. The impact killed a passenger in the oncoming vehicle, and sent Sanayah’s mother, Nandraine, to Shock Trauma, and Sanayah and her father to the hospital. The crash left Sanayah with a severe spinal cord injury, brain hemorrhage, and concussion. Although her spine was intact, the swelling—and the damage to the nerves that followed—left her paralyzed from the chest down.

The weeks that followed were difficult. Eric, whose condition had stabilized, spent long, sleepless nights with his daughter hoping she would survive, while Nandraine struggled to recover from her own injuries and the anxiety of being separated from her daughter.

Brain injury won't keep this budding actor from his Broadway dream.
Greg Kenney

Greg had been training for weeks for the 2015 Rock ‘N’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon and seemed in perfect health. But when Greg was within a few hundred feet of the finish line, he went into cardiac arrest and collapsed.

Running a few paces ahead of him in the race was Adrianna Amarillo, a medical resident. When she heard someone call for medical help, she turned around, ran to Greg, and performed CPR until a medical team arrived to airlift him to the hospital. But because of the prolonged lack of oxygen to his brain, Greg sustained a severe brain injury.

Later that evening, Amarillo went to work and saw Greg in her ICU. Greg’s mother, Stephanie Watson, says that Amarillo had found an angel pendant on the road a few months earlier. After someone said “you must be his guardian angel,” she remembered the pendant and gave it to Greg.

From Bangladesh to Baltimore, Sariyya learns to 'speak' through eye gaze system.
Sariyya smiling

On the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, you can hear the laughter and voices of schoolchildren bubbling through the open windows. One child, 7-year-old Sariyya, is quiet. Though no sound leaves her lips, she is communicating with her teacher. In front of her, on the tray of her wheelchair, lies a book of pictures. Sariyya’s gaze shifts from her teacher to the book before her, and back to her teacher. The teacher looks at the image of the cup in the book, and asks, “Sariyya, are you thirsty?” Sariyya’s gaze moves to the word “yes.”

It is a simple, yet ingenious eye-gaze communication system designed specifically for Sariyya by a speech-language pathologist at Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Ready to Launch
Kylie

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) took away my independence. The disorder left me partially paralyzed and robbed me of my ability to walk, talk, and even eat. But thanks to Kennedy Krieger’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury, I got my independence—and my lifelong dreams—back.

In January 2014, I became an inpatient at Kennedy Krieger. From the start, a team of supportive doctors, nurses, and therapists helped me come up with treatment goals. I was scared at first.

Christian's family searched for a diagnosis for years.  They finally found answers—and treatment—at Kennedy Krieger Institute. 
Christian

Multiple specialists spent eight years seeking a diagnosis for Christian Meese, ordering brain MRIs, muscle biopsies, blood tests, and sleep studies. When Christian and his family turned to the Neurology and Neurogenetics Program at Kennedy Krieger, experts found an answer through whole exome sequencing—a technique that analyzes thousands of genes all at once with a single test.

Knowing the cause of Christian’s developmental disability means doctors can offer targeted treatment for his individual needs. 

Short-term intensive therapy jumpstarts Anthony's progress toward independence.
Anthony Olvera

Four-year-old Anthony Olvera was born with a rare genetic disorder called Warburg micro syndrome. Characterized by cognitive, visual, and physical impairment, as well as cerebral palsy, Anthony’s condition meant that his vision was impaired, and he was unable to walk, sit up by himself, or communicate. The family knew the challenges he faced all too well—Anthony’s older brother Giovanni, 15, was born with the same condition.

So when the opportunity arose for early intervention for Anthony, the family wholeheartedly embraced it. 

Life Lessons
Francisco Oller

In life, we face many challenges that we have no control over.

I was born with a rare genetic disease, Pelizaeus-Merzbacher (PMD), that affects my motor skills. In my youth, I was bullied and rejected in school because of my disability.

Innovative therapies helped Kevin DiLegge become the athlete he knew he could be
Kevin DiLegge Marathon

Kevin DiLegge is a competitor. According to his mother, Mary, her son likes to do just about anything except sit at home. Now 26, Kevin was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant. Thanks to innovative physical therapy interventions at Kennedy Krieger Institute, Kevin learned to walk for the first time with a gait trainer and began riding a bike on his own last year.

Helping families affected by traumatic experiences
Center for Child and Family Traumatic Stress

In the bustling urban center of Baltimore, the Center for Child and Family Traumatic Stress at Kennedy Krieger Institute offers a bright, child-friendly oasis for families and children struggling with the effects of traumatic experiences.

Pages

Appointments & Referrals

FIND A SPECIALIST

Publications

Read inspiring stories, news and updates about the Institute's patient care, research, special education, professional training, and community programs.

 

Resource Finder

 

A free resource that provides access to information and support for individuals and families living with developmental disabilities.