Despite a number of setbacks and still facing months of rehabilitation, Kelly Ventura remains upbeat and is scheduled to come home Jan. 31. The 13-year-old will be honored at approximately 7 tonight between Brunswicks junior varsity and varsity home games against Walsh Jesuit. PHOTO PROVIDED
His name is Kelly Ventura, but his courage and positive outlook have led to the refrain “KellyStrong” in the Brunswick community and boys basketball program.
Nearly two months after a freakish at-home fall left him with brain trauma, a fractured skull, several broken bones in his jaw and torn carotid arteries, the 13-year-old Willetts Middle School eighth-grader will be honored tonight between Brunswick’s junior varsity and varsity home games against Walsh Jesuit.
Barring any last-minute complications, Kelly is expected to be released from MetroHealth Brooklyn Health Center to attend the ceremony, which will take place at approximately 7 p.m. He then will return to the hospital, where his release date is set for Jan. 31.
To date, event organizer Hildi Hamrick and parents involved in the Willetts basketball program have helped raise almost $10,000 through the sale of “KellyStrong” T-shirts and wristbands. Benefits from the 50-50 raffle at tonight’s game also will go toward paying Kelly’s medical bills.
In addition, a GoFundMe account has been set up online, and businesses wishing to help can send checks made out to “KellyStrong” to Fifth Third Bank, 4023 Center Road, Brunswick. As of Tuesday morning, $9,295 had been pledged to the GoFundMe account.
“The wins are always nice, but I’ve always said the best thing we’ve done at Brunswick is create a family atmosphere, a place where our players feel loved and respected,” 21st-year boys varsity coach Joe Mackey said.
“Unfortunately, one of our family members has suffered a terrible injury and his family needs help. We want to do everything we can to help Kelly and (mother) Sabrina through this difficult journey. The last thing they should worry about is money in a time like this.”
On Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving, Kelly was outside his Brunswick home with 15-year-old sister Summer and grandfather Dennis Hadick lowering his basketball hoop so he could clean the backboard.
The 6-foot-4 Kelly, whom doctors expect to grow to 6-9, had gotten the structure down and was walking backward with the backboard in his hands when he tripped over a bench and fell, hitting his head on concrete.
“It was just a freak accident,” Sabrina said.
Freakier still was that it occurred 10 years to the day that Kelly’s dad and Sabrina’s husband, Jim, died in a car accident.
“Whatever being would do that to me on the same day for a third time, I’d be really mad,” said Sabrina, who returned Monday to her job at Harbor Freight Tools in Medina.
Kelly was taken to the Cleveland Clinic’s Family Health Center in Brunswick and then flown to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. In addition to the brain trauma, skull facture and other injuries already mentioned, he also suffered from hearing loss, impaired vision and sixth nerve palsy, which has left him cross-eyed.
Until Saturday, Kelly was fed almost exclusively through a tube, but his attitude was upbeat during a brief phone conversation Sunday.
“I really appreciate everything that they’ve done for me,” he said of the Brunswick community and basketball program. “It’s been a long process. My family helps me very much.”
While in the pediatric intensive care unit, Kelly got a visit from his teammates on the Willetts eighth-grade basketball team on Dec. 6.
At the time, he had lost 30 pounds, had double vision in his right eye and was hearing impaired, but it was a day Kelly will never forget.
“It was really nice,” he said. “I liked it a lot.”
Sabrina was more succinct.
“I’ve never seen a bunch of 13- and 14-year-old boys cry like I did that day,” she said. “You think they’re a bunch of bratty, crusty kids, but they have very big hearts. It was a very uplifting day.”
Dec. 15 was a great day for Kelly and his family, as he was released from the pediatric intensive care unit at MetroHealth Medical Center and transferred to the Brooklyn Health Center.
Dec. 23 was supposed to be even better, as Kelly was scheduled to go home.
But at 11 p.m. Dec. 22, he was transported back to MetroHealth Medical Center when his left ventricle burst. A tube was inserted into his skull to relieve the fluid building up in his brain, and instead of going home he was facing more surgery on Dec. 23.
The surgery on the left ventricle went well, though it remains possible the right ventricle could burst at any time during Kelly’s life.
“I’m amazed at his perseverance, his sense of humor,” Sabrina said. “The kid still can laugh. He’s cross-eyed, but he just makes you laugh. He doesn’t care what he looks like; he just cares about who he is. This kid is kick-ass.
“There were times when I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and I’d ask him if he did. He said yes, so I couldn’t waver.”
Kelly remained in the pediatric intensive care unit at MetroHealth Medical Center until last week, when he was transferred back to the Brooklyn Health Center, with a new release date of Jan. 31. He now can consume food — “He’s eating like a little pig,” his mom said — as well as walk and talk.
“I’m a little scared,” Sabrina said. “We got so close to coming home last time that I don’t want to jinx anything. But I look at Kelly and I think he can do anything. I’m thrilled with him. He’s the most positive person. We’ll get through this because he can get through anything. I can’t wait to get him home.”
A bright student, Kelly is not expected to have to repeat the eighth grade. Health-wise, he faces a lot of work with an ophthalmologist due to the sixth nerve palsy affecting his eyes. He also must deal with the right ventricle concerns, as well as continued physical and occupational therapy three to four times a week.
“He should be fine, but we’re talking 12 months down the line,” Sabrina said. “This is not an immediate thing. It’s going to take a long time.”
Once home, Kelly will require around-the-clock care, but the outpouring of support from the Brunswick community and surrounding areas has left his single mother with an abundance of volunteers.
“I was the one that, after my husband died, I kept all my feelings under wraps,” Sabrina said. “I don’t ask for help, ever. But I did not realize how good people are. This has completely restored my faith in humanity.”