Double Trouble with a Side of Ice Cream
Kenny Freeman and Richard Zane forged a lasting friendship during one of the most challenging times in their lives.
Kenny Freeman and Richard Zane talk or text almost daily – they crack each other up and cheer each other on. If you ask, they’ll each claim their friend is “the nicer half” of the relationship.
Kenny is a veteran – he served four years in the U.S. Army, completing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Richard is an OB-GYN – throughout his career, he has delivered thousands of babies. Kenny is a native Atlantan, and Richard, 35 years Kenny’s senior, has lived in Atlanta for more than four decades.
In December 2021, Kenny was on the job as a sanitation worker, riding on the back of a garbage truck, when another truck hit him, pinning him between the two vehicles. Both of his femurs and pelvis were broken, and he sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
A couple of weeks later, in January 2022, Richard woke up and couldn’t move his arm. When he got up to walk to the bathroom and lost his balance along the way, he realized he was experiencing a stroke.
Both men were admitted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where they were in the ICU at the same time, and both later transferred to Shepherd Center’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program. But it wasn’t until their time at Shepherd Pathways, Shepherd Center’s comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation program for people recovering from brain injury, that their friendship grew.
Kenny, who affectionately calls Richard “Doc,” recalls bonding with Richard over ice cream, one of Kenny’s favorite treats. Apparently, the pair ate LOTS of ice cream at Spring Creek House, the residential unit at Pathways.
“I guess the staff got annoyed because while we were there, we ate all the ice cream,” Kenny jokes.
Kenny even convinced his therapist to make a trip to an ice cream shop during therapy — and, of course, he convinced Richard and his therapist to come along.
Kenny describes the way he and Richard would wrap up their therapy sessions. “At the end of the day, we always went outside and tried to race our wheelchairs — it's kind of a double trouble story,” he explains.
“We had fun together,” Richard recalls. “In our wheelchairs, we would push each other and help each other out, or race and make a mess of everything. We just tried to have a good time laughing.”
Richard and Kenny would spend the evenings together at Spring Creek House. “He became part of my family. He would sit and eat dinner with my family when they would visit us each night,” Richard explains.
Along with the fun, Kenny and Richard supported each other as they made great strides at Shepherd. Richard had weakness in his left side and problems with his vision after his stroke. In therapy, he worked on walking, regaining strength in his left arm, and correcting his vision. Now, he’s participating in Beyond Therapy® at Shepherd Center. After his injury, Kenny also worked on walking, and although he still uses his wheelchair sometimes, he can now walk with a cane.
While they joke about their shenanigans, Kenny and Richard praise each other’s progress and express a deep admiration for one another.
“Kenny is just a compassionate, caring, kind man, and I have so much respect for what he's accomplished,” Richard says. "He served in Fallujah and Afghanistan. That is so amazing to me. And to have watched him make progress and be able to walk again — it was his drive and desire that helped him accomplish so much. His life experiences are so different from mine. But we really connect.”
And according to Kenny, the feeling is mutual. “Doc's great to be around and to talk to. He’s an all-around stand-up guy,” Kenny explains. “I’m quiet with everybody else, but I feel comfortable talking to him. He helped me keep my head up when I was down in the hospital. When I was depressed, talking to him and eating ice cream with him was perfect for me.”
Kenny and Richard continue to root for each other and celebrate one another’s progress. They look forward to more high jinks — and ice cream — as they continue their rehabilitation.
Written by Ruth Underwood
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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.