February 16, 2006
Methodist Rehabilitation Center employee to receive one of the highest military honors given to a civilian
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Brad Kennedy of Mendenhall will receive one of the highest military honors given to a civilian March 18, 2006 when he is awarded the Mississippi Magnolia Medal.
The 30-year-old corporal for the all-volunteer Mississippi State Guard is being recognized for rescuing a Gulf Coast man who suffered a severe asthma attack in the midst of Hurricane Katrina.
“His instinct was to save that guy’s life and he put himself in jeopardy to do it,” said Mississippi State Guard First Lieutenant John Kisner.
As an above-the-knee amputee who uses a high-tech artificial leg, Kennedy knew what he was risking as he drove in search of an inhaler for the man. If flood waters swamped his truck, his leg’s expensive electronics would surely be short-circuited.
“When that happens, it’s like walking with a straight leg,” said Kennedy, a certified prosthetist who makes and fits artificial limbs for Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics in Flowood. “It’s very uncomfortable and awkward.”
Kennedy is a member of the State Guard’s Hattiesburg-based 402nd Military Police Battalion which was sent to the Gulf Coast to augment forces from the National Guard’s 112th Military Police Battalion. He was assigned to an attachment that waited out Hurricane Katrina at the Moss Point High School shelter.
When an asthmatic at the shelter began struggling to breathe, Kennedy said it became clear that waiting for help wasn’t an option. “We had some EMTs from Florida there, and they felt like the man was going to die if he didn’t get medical attention,” Kennedy said.
So Kennedy hurried the asthma patient, an EMT and a local resident into his four-wheel drive, Ford F-250 truck, and they made a run for higher ground.
The school’s campus had been turned into an island by the storm surge. Yet as the group headed toward what might be dangerously deep waters, Kennedy’s mind wasn’t on his vulnerabilities. “The individual that we were helping came first,” he said. “My truck and leg could be replaced. The person couldn’t.”
The truck stalled about 45 yards out and Kennedy and the EMT helped the others wade to safety through chest-deep waters. As the man rested, Kennedy went house to house looking for an inhaler. Once one was found,“the man took about four hits and got his breathing back under control,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy found a boat to ferry everyone back to the school. Then he quietly got back to his other duties—despite being hobbled by his ruined left leg.
While Kennedy wanted to keep working, First Sergeant Clint Williams sent him home two days later to have his leg repaired. “It’s one of the hardest things I had to do,” Williams said. “I was proud that he had the guts to go out and try something like that. He has my respect totally as a soldier and a human being.”
It’s Kennedy’s nature to come to the aid of people in need, and it’s ultimately what cost him half his left leg at age 17. While helping a friend push his disabled car off the road, Kennedy was struck by another car.
Ever since, Kennedy has led a no-excuses lifestyle—particularly when it comes to physical challenges. Last year, he pedaled 1,370 miles across Europe to showcase the athletic abilities of amputees.
Forced to set aside his dreams of becoming a Marine, Kennedy threw his energies into becoming certified to make and fit artificial limbs. Now he spends every day supporting and encouraging people who face the challenges of living with artificial limbs. Lately he has been using his vacation time to visit Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, where he helps soldiers injured in the war in Iraq adjust to their prostheses.
Kennedy said the Mississippi State Guard—a unit that serves as a defensive force for the state during times of emergency—has helped answer his desire to serve his country. “I’m doing what I can to do my part here,” he said. “If they let me in the military a little later on, I’ll do that, too.”
His superiors in the state guard say the active military would be lucky to have Kennedy.
“Even with him having one leg, I’d like 10 more just like him,” Kisner said. “In most cases he does as much, if not more, than our other able-bodied soldiers.”
“He’s always there ready to go when I call on him,” Williams said. “I would put my life in his hands any day of the week.”
Methodist Orthotics and Prosthetics—a division of Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson—was one of the first sites in the nation to fit amputees with the Otto Bock C-Leg—the world’s first completely microprocessor-controlled artificial leg. The division is recognized by the American Board of Certification as a center of excellence and also serves as an accredited residency site for the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education.