If they do it, so can you. There is no reason you can’t, unless you simply don’t believe.
Face the music, go into the light, never say die.
This is why The Sunday Series exists…because we can all see the courage in your battle, find hope in your journey, or gather inspiration from your purpose…and maybe even lend a hand.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (96): Greg in Progress
There it was on the ground on a San Diego street. It looked just like a quarter, silver and shiny, why not pick it up? So that’s what Adriana Amarillo did. She quickly learned there was no monetary value, it wasn’t a quarter, it was a pendant…with an angel on the front. Although she believed it unique, Adriana didn’t see it as any sort of sign. But instead of tossing it aside, she decided to keep it. You never know when having an angel by your side can come in handy.
Fast forward two months, September 5th, 2015,Virginia Beach. Adriana had decided there was no way she was going to enter this race. The Rock ‘n Roll Marathon was to take place the next morning. But this night, the night before the race, Adriana was out-on-the-town enthusiastically celebrating her birthday with her sister. She had decided the early morning wake-up call for the half-marathon was never going to happen. No way. Adriana was done.
“Medical down, Medical down” was the call Adriana heard behind her. She could see the finish line in the distance, she was almost there. Despite the celebration and the partying the night before, Adriana had managed to rally and enter the marathon. Now 13 miles plus into the race, she was almost finished, the end of the road was at hand. But there was that shouting behind her: “Medical down, Medical down.” A third-year resident at a Naval hospital, Adriana knew what she had to do… turn her back on the finish line and run in the opposite direction, toward the person who needed help.
It didn’t take her long. Before she knew it Adriana was up on top of 17-year-old Greg Kenney, pounding his chest, breathing into his mouth, performing CPR, trying to keep him alive. With just a tenth-of-a-mile to go in this Rock ‘n Roll marathon the music had suddenly stopped for Greg. He was in full cardiac arrest. For nearly 15 minutes Adriana performed rep after rep, until the medics arrived. They choppered in on a Nightingale EC-145, the same exact helicopter Greg was wearing on his hat, the one he had put on just before the race. When the medics arrived they pulled Adriana off of Greg. It was their turn to help. But one of them turned to Adriana to let her know how much they appreciated what she had done. “You must be his guardian angel” one of them told her. Suddenly, it all made sense. The angel pendant she had picked up two months ago in San Diego was meant for this moment, for Greg, to save his life. Now it was up to God.
For most of his still-young life Greg Kenney sang and danced like few can. His love of music and theater overshadowed only by his love for the Lord. It’s been his faith and his desire to share his gifts of performance that have carried him through most of his 17-years. In such a short time on this planet, Greg had already performed in more than 60 musicals, most of them community theater. But most recently Greg spent time performing at the Savannah Summer Institute in Georgia and South Carolina, the only actor selected for both sessions, performing in Little Shop of Horrors and Big Fish. Acting, singing and dancing are his passion and his purpose.
Greg Sr. said his son had been “working like a fiend”, acting, exercising and running – getting in top shape to participate in the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon. Greg’s father was looking forward to the opportunity to do this with his son, despite the fact Greg Sr. was taking part in the race only six weeks removed from knee surgery. Although he couldn’t run much, mostly walk and was starting way behind Greg in the race, it was still the experience for Greg Sr of being in the event with his only child for which he says he was “selfishly grateful.” The morning of the race they both had their phones with them and Greg was supposed to text his father when he reached the finish line.
But the text never came. The only cellphone activity was the call coming into Stephanie Kenney, Greg’s mom. She had not attended the race, staying behind at home in Clinton, Maryland. It was Sunday and Stephanie was just leaving church when her phone rang. Someone from the race was calling to say they were looking for Greg Sr., because there was a medical problem with their son. “I know God overlooks everything so it wasn’t that I panicked,” says Stephanie. “But my mind went into what I needed to do, first and foremost to find my husband, get someone to watch my mom, who is disabled and I was heading to Virginia. Greg’s godmother Patty said she would drive me there.”
Besides their intense faith, both Stephanie and Greg Sr. are retired military – having both reached the top enlisted grades for the Air Force: Chief Master Sergeant. They had been in crisis situations before, though never with their only child.
Greg was brought to the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk, VA. That’s where his parents finally arrived to learn their son had survived, barely, he had aspirated, his lungs were full of fluid and he had gone a long stretch without blood or oxygen to his brain.
Stephanie and Greg were asked to make a decision, they needed to sign papers to allow the medical team to use an ECMO. The ECMO is a modified heart-lung machine that pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood, allowing the heart and lungs to rest. The release form to use the machine needed to be signed because there’s a risk, the risk the machine could also kill Greg,. But if the doctors didn’t try it, they didn’t Greg would live. His parents signed the form. As Greg Sr. likes to say, “God has a plan, and it slowly evolves for us.”
The Kenney’s put their trust in a higher power and the machine went to work. As it turns out one of the nurses scheduled to keep an eye on Greg that day in the hospital…was none other than Adriana Amarillo. It was there she told the Kenney’s the story about her angel pendant and how she now knew she was meant to save their son’s life.
Although alive, Greg remained in a coma for more than three weeks. Multiple tests, a CT scan and an MRI of Greg’s heart showed absolutely nothing. Doctors still don’t know why this 17-year-old picture of perfect health suffered cardiac death. They may never know. But what is known now is Greg is a fighter. Much like he has crafted a career in theater, Greg is now living the greatest role of his life, the Comeback Kid.
Although told by doctors their son was in a vegetative state, by the end of September Greg started to move, to track with his eyes, got some flexibility in his limbs. The right side of his brain suffered a good deal of damage because of the lack of oxygen, so the left side of his body is most affected. His vocal cord on the left side is still paralyzed, making any speech very difficult. His left arm still lacks much movement and he is not able to walk with his left leg, he can move it, but the neurons are not allowing him to walk. But no lack of blood or oxygen could affect Greg’s spirit, attitude, or faith.
“Greg is so ridiculously positive I can’t explain it”, says his father. “I have not seen him break down. If it were me, I would say, ‘why me Lord?’ But Greg’s thinking is this is part of a bigger calling. He wants a full recovery, 100%. He wants to get back to Savannah Summer Theater, that’s one of his big goals. So many positives have come out of this. So many of the people Greg has touched in his life have been there to support him.”
Greg has been in rehab at Kennedy Krieger Institute since late September. He has graduated to the outpatient program and he and his family are staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore. Speaking of positive, it’s all that and more for the family’s stay at RMH. “They are amazing,” says Stephanie. “It’s all about gratitude and thankfulness for everything they do. They totally support and accept in every endeavor. The coaching and comfort from every person on the staff is incredible, everyone goes above and beyond what is expected of them. It is a house of love.”
It is love that is fueling Greg’s fight. His love of God and his love of performance. He has put in tremendous work and effort to learn to control his breath, produce sounds and regain the movement in his hands and feet. There is still a long way to go. The doctors at Kennedy Krieger are even using music to help in therapy. It has been documented that music can help with executive functioning, language, cognition and motor planning. A person who is having trouble speaking can learn how to control their speaking voice through the rhythm of music and song.
There’s certainly a song in Greg’s heart, the same heart which went into cardiac death – but was brought back to life by Adriana, whose quick actions helped save Greg’s life and give him a second chance. Just a few days after the traumatic event, Adriana gave the angel pendant she had found to Greg. His mother Stephanie found a chain for it and now Greg proudly wears it around his neck. A symbol of the life-long bond he and his guardian angel Adriana will always share.
The road ahead for Greg is still uncertain and there are mounting medical bills. A go-fund-me page has been established by friends of the Kenney’s, Kevin & Marsha Hartfield and David & Kimberly Albritton, to help the family with the cost of such expensive care. If you care to contribute it’s:(https://www.gofundme.com/gregkenney).
You can also track Greg’s progress on the Facebook page Stephanie established, Actor In Progress, the same words which have been part of Greg’s e-mail address for years, (https://www.facebook.com/actorinprogress/?fref=ts)
Greg Sr. says he has learned so much from this part of the journey with his son. “Greg has such faith in the Lord, his faith is unshakable. I have no doubt he will make a full recovery. Singing and dancing is his real passion and he will do that again.
It’s all about daily progress. Greg’s voice yearns to sing, his feet to dance, his heart to perform.
We wish him God’s speed.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Speaker, Speech Writer, Emmy Winner, USHEALTH Advisors
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