Shepherd Center Caregiver Feature: Brian Kelly, Husband of Laurie Kelly
Brian Kelly relied on his Shepherd Center training – and his children’s optimism – to overcome his fears and become the caregiver his wife needed.
As Thanksgiving 2018 approached, Shepherd Center staff decided Laurie Kelly could return home, to Kennesaw, Georgia, for the holidays. She had made significant improvement since experiencing a brain aneurysm on the Fourth of July. Laurie’s children – Caiden, 7 at the time, and Berkleigh, then 5 – were ecstatic. They happily sacrificed, and decorated, their own playroom downstairs as it was converted into a makeshift bedroom for their mother. And they counted down the days.
Their dad, Brian Kelly, did, too. But his countdown felt different.
“I don’t want to say it was fear but… yeah, it was fear,” Brian says. “I kept thinking, ‘How the hell can I do this?’ I knew Shepherd had taught me what I needed, but still, all I could think was, ‘This just feels impossible to do alone.’”
Occupational and recreational therapists at Shepherd Center assured Brian that his wife would benefit from being at home again, with the familiarity and motivation it would bring.
Brian remembers his response: “I said, ‘Get out of here,’” he recalls with a laugh. “Look at this place. The doctors, the lifts, the equipment. How can home be better than here?
“But they were right,” he says. “Getting Laurie home, with the kids loving on her and tugging on her was better than just about any therapy session at that point. I was putting the equipment – and quite frankly, the ease of things at Shepherd Center – over the TLC Laurie needed at home.”
Still, the transition had its challenges for Brian: He was taking on the kids’ school schedule for the first time; working through the onslaught of paperwork required for health insurance and Medicaid assistance; constantly replacing at-home nurses for Laurie and babysitters for the kids, particularly tough tasks during the pandemic; and juggling his job as senior associate athletic director at Georgia State University. All while taking care of Laurie and their children.
“Caregiving never stops,” Brian says. “It’s like the ocean. The tide is always rolling in. You’re just checking to see how big the waves are each day.”
He tries to practice what Shepherd Center preaches about self-care. Once a month, he goes bowling, hiking up Kennesaw Mountain or out to dinner with a friend. Something to recharge his batteries. And he reflects often on the family therapy sessions he attended at Shepherd Center.
“Those were the absolute best,” he says. “I soaked up every opportunity to grieve with others and learn from others. Caregivers would come in and seem light years ahead of me, but they made me feel like I could do this.”
Brian is thankful for the help he’s received, especially from Laurie’s sisters, Carolyn and Jackie, who both live in the northeast. Carolyn stayed in the ICU from the start and then made monthly trips back once Laurie returned home. Jackie, meanwhile, picked up her life, moved into the Kelly home and worked remotely for 10 months in order to help.
Most of all, Brian’s thankful that Laurie, his college sweetheart, is still making progress. She now stays independently at the house for an hour each day, something that was unfathomable to Brian even a year ago. Laurie attends Beyond Therapy® at Shepherd Center three times a week and she’ll return to the hospital’s outpatient program, Shepherd Pathways, for a second time this spring.
“Her progress is tangible now. She can see it,” Brian says. “Things feel within her reach and that really helps keep her momentum going.”
Best of all, his children and their mother have a more powerful bond than ever. The one time Brian cries while recounting his caregiving journey is when he recalls his first conversation with their kids after Laurie’s aneurysm.
“I didn’t even know what kind of conversation to have with them,” he says. “I didn’t know if Laurie was going to survive at that point. That talk was harder than anything I’ve had to do since.”
He thinks about that often now when he watches Caiden and Berkleigh play with Laurie. Or when he simply sits back and takes in his family together at home.
“Where we are now was hard to even hope for back then,” he says. “I mean, it was nine weeks in an ICU. Five months in hospitals. The transitions we each had to make coming home. It’s just incredible. It’s all so, so worth it to be where we are today.”
Written by Phillip Jordan
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.