by Kevin Dicciani
Where does inspiration come from?
Does it come from a novel or a song, a hero on the silver screen, from within, or from the people we love the most – the people who give us every reason to keep going even when it seems best just to give up?
For many people, Kevin Kirk is their green light at the end of the dock. His life bears the watermarks of strength and courage – its burning embers of hope visible long after he drowned in the swimming pool at his Lafayette Hill home on June 8 of this year, when he was 15 years old.
Kevin, at age 5, was diagnosed with ganglioglioma, a tumor that occurs in the brain or spinal cord. When the tumor was removed from his brain, Kevin had very little control over his left leg and had difficulty moving his toes and foot.
Six months after Kevin was out of the hospital, one of the physical therapists came up to Kevin’s father, Bruce Kirk, and suggested stopping physical therapy. When asked why, the therapist said that Kevin was “as good as he’s going to be.”
“I don’t think so,” Kirk responded, and Kevin continued to fight for everything he had.
Kirk said despite the physical limitations and warnings that Kevin would never be able to run or play sports, Kevin expressed an intense desire to play football, which he did successfully both at Norwood Fontbonne Academy in fourth and fifth grade and at Ancillae-Assumpta Academy from sixth to eighth grade. Kevin was so successful that he was awarded the John J. “Jack” Plunkett H’92 Scholar-Athlete-Citizen Scholarship at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
“Here’s a kid who 10 years earlier had come home in a wheelchair and was able to overcome his challenges to the point that he was able to get a football scholarship in high school,” Kirk said. “What’s even more unusual is that it was because of his perseverance and the work and effort he put into it. Whereas others may have withdrawn, Kevin wasn’t afraid to try things. He was the one that wanted to play football – I never pushed him. He came to me and said, ‘Hey, Dad – I want to play football.’”
“He was the one to push the envelope,” Kirk continued. “Usually a kid like that would shy away from the things that would potentially expose their weakness, but he had no fear of that. And I attribute that to what he went through when he was 5. It certainly changed his perspective on life. He didn’t take things for granted. It made him a stronger person.”
Rick Knox, Kevin’s coach and dean of students at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, said that Kevin “enjoyed life to the fullest and always treated others with respect.”
Knox recalled a story about Kevin as a member of his football team:
“During the summer before his freshman year, working out on an ankle that had not properly healed from a previous injury, Kevin would never take off a sprint or complain about his obvious discomfort. This pushed his teammates to work harder themselves. However, it was Kevin’s overall zest for living and positive/caring nature that more significantly impacted his teammates.”
When Kevin died, his compassion and energy did not. Bruce Kirk, after witnessing the immense support from the community, decided to start an organization – Kevin’s Hope Inc. – that will provide support for families with children who have chronic disabilities, physical and cognitive.
“One of the things we’re going to do is provide information through our website and elsewhere to help navigate families through the recovery process,” Kirk said. “We’re going to share stories of children who’ve overcome adversity with others who are going through the same thing, because I’ve seen many families lose hope. They get overwhelmed, especially families without extended family or significant resources surrounding them. We want to share those positive stories about children who have overcome adversity and have gone on to lead more fulfilling lives. We want to fight that tendency to give in, roll over, and just give up.”
Kirk said that by empowering these families and their communities, it not only helps the families going through these tragedies, but it gives a sense of direction to the community, a pathway to providing support and hope to those who need it most.
“Often,” Kirk said, “people want to help, they just don’t know how to help.”
Through Kevin’s Hope Inc., families will be able to get the support they need, whether it’s from a specific resource, or from something as simple as a phone call.
“That’s what life’s all about,” Kirk said, “I believe we’re here to learn and we’re here to grow and we’re here to help one another. It’s during the difficult times, those are the times that force us to stretch and grow and learn the most. The pleasant times are just that – they’re pleasant and they’re fleeting – but the real change takes place when we go through difficult times.”
Mary McCann, whose son was in Kevin’s class last year, has joined with Kirk and others to help jump-start Kevin’s Hope Inc.
“We hope to provide a website to deliver a ‘menu’ of services, from a pool of networks (medical, monetary, spiritual) where parents can choose what type of information they need,” McCann said. “Bruce said how lonely it is with a sick child. We want to take that away.”
At the beginning of the football season, Kevin’s jersey number – 60 – was retired. In addition, SCH’s student leadership team developed a year-end award that will be given annually to the student new to SCH who has made the biggest positive impact on the community during the school year.
On Nov. 3, before the SCH football team squared off against Penn Charter, Kevin’s legacy was honored with a moment of silence. During that silence, if you put your ear to the sky and listened closely, you could almost hear the love and support reverberating off the crowd in the bleachers and the players on the field, where Kevin’s inspirational legacy will live on forever.
To find out more about Kevin’s Hope Inc. and its mission statement, visit the website, www.kevinhope.org