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Student and Avid Gamer Finds New Reason to Dream Big

Following his rehabilitation, a student returns to school to study gaming design.

Talk to Kenny Oramasionwu and you’ll find a typical college student immersed in his childhood dream of designing video games. You’ll learn that, as someone with tetraplegia, he cannot move most of his muscles. Then you’ll find those traits merging in a remarkable way.

A car struck Kenny on March 23, 2014 in Savannah, Ga., injuring his spinal cord at the C-5 level and dramatically limiting his body’s mobility. After two weeks at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah and three months of rehabilitation at Shepherd Center, Kenny says he is determined to move forward, to reach beyond his physical limitations and the accident – which paralyzed his body, but not his dream.

Born in Scotland with dual citizenship in Canada and Nigeria, 20-year-old Kenny has wanted to design video games since he was in third grade. In 2011, that led him to Savannah, where he enrolled in the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), pursuing a degree in interactive media and game development.

Having temporarily paused his plan and his education following the accident, Kenny now has recast both with a new purpose.

“One of my biggest goals is to make video games more accessible to tetraplegics – people like me who can’t move their arms,” Kenny says. “I want to make it possible for them to play games others are playing – specifically, to design assistive devices so people can get back into the world of games.”

In April, Kenny relocated to Atlanta and re-enrolled in SCAD at the school’s Atlanta campus, where he will resume classes in September. He found an apartment next door to the college, equipped with many of the features he needs. “I’ll have to request some accessibility modifications, but I’m happy where I am,” he notes.

Kenny’s happiness doesn’t end with his proximity to campus. He already has seen an increase in mobility with his arms, particularly his left side, because of the intensive rehabilitation he’s been undergoing at Shepherd Center.

“I’m really confident in the therapy and what’s available to me,” he says. “I go to Shepherd Center every weekday. There’s lots of physical therapy, occupational therapy, working with my upper body, brushing teeth, eating, dressing.”

Amanda Gillot, who was Kenny’s occupational therapist in Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Day Program, found Kenny to be an active participant in his therapy, sharing his own ideas about what he felt was needed to accomplish some of the tasks that are most important to him, such as operating a computer.

He has accepted that he needs assistive devices, such as a stylus to access and respond to email, and then has quickly applied himself to making good use of them, Gillot says.

As necessary as those tools and physical exercises are, however, it is also the intangible benefits from his Shepherd Center experience that help expand a universe he is learning to negotiate in new ways.

“Shepherd Center is its own protective bubble,” Kenny says. “I felt at home with people in similar situations. At first, when I would go out on my own, it was kind of scary. Now I’m adjusting. The positive vibe is infectious. It starts to stick with you so that you can re-engage with the real world. Now I can start to see a future for myself.”

Having graduated from Shepherd Center’s Day Program, Kenny will continue his rehabilitation in outpatient therapy two or three days a week while also fixing his sights on what lies ahead.

That kind of tenacity is what so captivates Gillot.

 “He got stronger while he was here, but didn't have a ton of muscle return, which is typical of injuries like his early on,” Gillot says. “But what impressed me so much is his resolve to get back to school, to get on with life. Many times, injuries like this can change a person’s life plan. Kenny well understands that he’ll be dealing with all of this for a long time, but he’s not letting it delay his future or deter him from what he wants to accomplish most in life.”

In spite of the accident – and in many ways, because of it – Kenny is putting bold plans in motion. It starts with his rehabilitation and will continue with his education, then, hopefully, with a career in gaming.

“Being here and having such a positive experience with Shepherd Center, seeing and benefiting from all the care that’s available, makes me think about how we’re lacking that in my home country of Nigeria,” he says. “I would love one day to take that experience back home and establish a similar kind of facility there.”

Getting to that tomorrow, he says, requires a continued focus on today. And Kenny is dedicating himself to doing exactly that.

“I’ll give it my best shot,” he says, “and if adjustments need to be made, I’ll just go with the flow and adjust. I’ll face changes as they come and will keep moving forward.”

For more information on Shepherd Center's spinal cord injury rehabilitation programs, click here.

Written by Shawn Reeves
Photos by Phil Skinner

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.