Small Acts of Kindness: Kymberlee Baker's Story
After facing adversity and sustaining a brain injury, Kymberlee Baker found purpose again through performing acts of kindness for others.
Even before the brain tumors and emergency surgery that changed her life forever, Kymberlee Baker was no stranger to facing adversity.
She grew up in a tough area in Inglewood, California. When she was 18, she was shot in a drive-by shooting.
“My mother instilled in me a belief in God from an early age,” she says. “But growing up, it was not a place where you dream big. I was just trying to survive, to make it out alive.”
She did just that. The driven young woman eventually moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and established her new life there, working her way up in the hospitality industry over 20 years from cleaning rooms to assistant manager in a prestigious hotel chain, loving each step in the journey.
But in February 2020, Kymberlee began experiencing recurring headaches and dizziness. Originally diagnosed as vertigo, the symptoms progressed to the point where she had so much trouble walking that she went to the emergency room at Atlanta’s Northside Gwinnett Hospital. After an MRI, she received the grim news that she had two tumors on her brain stem and had to undergo a risky surgery.
“I said no, no, I got plans,” Kymberlee recalls. “It did not dawn on me what they were saying. I was like, hurry up, I gotta get back to work.”
She came out of surgery feeling like she was a different person: “I didn’t understand why I couldn’t read or speak. The confidence that I had was gone. No one can prepare you for this new life.”
Kymberlee dug deep and found the strength to begin learning to live in her new normal after brain injury. In March 2020, she began rehabilitation at Shepherd Center’s Comprehensive Rehabilitation Unit, a special unit designed for patients who are admitted with conditions that occurred post-injury or disease, and offers treatment to stabilize these conditions and help secure better health.
During her first day of physical therapy, Kymberlee’s therapist asked her what movies she liked. She told him her favorite movie was “300,” where a band of brave, outnumbered Spartans in ancient Greece make a stand against a superior army.
“So, every day we would act like we were Spartans and conquer my goals,” Kymberlee explains. “He’d say, do five repetitions, but I would do 10 because I’m a Spartan. He pushed me.”
In addition to the support from her therapy team, Kymberlee had support from her sister who was by her side during her entire stay at Shepherd Center. Through that support and her own inner strength, Kymberlee found a new calling. During art therapy, she learned she could create beautiful, elaborate cards with encouraging messages for other people with brain injuries.
“I thought, what do I have left?” she says. “What did God leave me with? I can make people things. When Easter came, I made Easter cards for every person on the unit.”
After leaving Shepherd Center, she had a random encounter at a highway rest stop with a visually impaired young man who had been at Shepherd with her and still cherished the card she made for him.
“I had been saying, ‘God what do you want me to do with my life?’” she recalls. “From that day on I knew I was supposed to inspire and encourage others.”
Now 47 and living independently in a northern suburb of Atlanta, she is looking into how to make cards in Braille for people with blindness or low vision, and writing a memoir, “Collateral Damage,” “about how God wanted to get out of me what he needed to, and he needed my full attention,” Kymberlee says.
Although she started by giving her cards away, friends kept suggesting she try selling them as well. The Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation has bought her cards for support groups. She has also been taking online classes with Synergies Work, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities grow small businesses.
The cards resonate with what she calls “my community of brain injuries” because they are made by someone in that community.
“People need to know small acts of kindness do last a lifetime,” she says. “They can mean the world to someone.”
By Phil Kloer
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 neurological 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.