LOVELAND, Ohio – It has been a year since Ethan Kadish was struck by lightning while he was outside playing Ultimate Frisbee at a summer camp near Indianapolis.
The Loveland teen is nowhere near fully recovered.
But after months of hospital stays, surgeries and medical complications, Ethan is showing signs of progress.
He is moving his head, arms and feet more deliberately.
He laughs and coos and makes “la-la-la” sounds that his mother hopes are the start of regaining his ability to speak.
“Sometimes when he hears songs that he recognizes or songs that he knows, he starts making small noises like he’s trying to join in,” said Zakary Kadish, Ethan’s older brother. “He’s just a lot happier now.”
Ethan still isn’t the boy he was when he left last June for the URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute, a Jewish summer camp in Zionsville, Ind.
Before camp, he played catcher on his community baseball team and performed in the high school musical. He rode roller coasters, had sleepovers and listened to pop music.
Now he eats through a tube in his abdomen. He gets pushed around in his wheelchair. He needs help with every aspect of his life.
Still, he’s improving.
“We feel that we are finally on this upward path, and it’s starting to get exciting,” said Alexia Kadish, Ethan’s mom.
The Power Of Team Ethan
It’s been a difficult year for the whole Kadish family.
For the months Ethan spent in the hospital, the Kadishes were a house divided.
Alexia and Scott Kadish had to split their time between the hospital with Ethan – who needed so much love and attention – and home with Zakary and Elyse, Ethan’s brother and sister – who needed their parents, too.
The legions of friends and volunteers known as Team Ethan were critically important through all those months.
They cooked meals for the Kadishes. They spent nights with Ethan at the hospital so his parents could sleep at home. They drove visiting relatives to and from the airport. They remodeled the Kadishes’ house to give Ethan a first-floor bedroom, a handicapped accessible bathroom and wheelchair lift in the garage.
They also organized fundraisers to help the family pay Ethan’s mounting medical expenses. Bills that will likely not go away anytime soon; if at all.
Amy Bennett, a St. Louis mom who has never met the Kadishes, has made bracelets and sold them to raise money. She calls them chazak bracelets, after the Hebrew word for “strong” or “strengthen.”
“So far, I’ve been able to donate $9,000,” said Bennett, whose son was working at the Indiana camp last summer and helped perform CPR on Ethan. “Ethan’s injuries and medical expenses continue. I’ll continue as long as people want the bracelets.”
Bennett’s is just one of many fundraising efforts for Ethan that reach far beyond Cincinnati, said Rebecca Meyer Carr, manager of fundraising and patient services for HelpHOPELive, the Philadelphia-based national nonprofit that is coordinating fundraising for the Kadishes.
“What’s really been incredible about Ethan’s campaign is how widespread it has been,” she said. “It’s really been a national campaign, and that’s what has made it stand out.”
Because Ethan was at camp when he was injured, Jewish camp communities have held fundraisers. Fellow campers from other parts of the country have raised money. Friends of Ethan’s relatives on the West Coast have helped. There’s even a Jewish Ultimate Frisbee online group that raised some money, Carr said.
That approach can be a powerful way to connect with potential donors, said Krista Neher, a Cincinnati-based social media consultant and trainer.
“Social media allows the message to spread faster to people who are in some way connected to the people needing help,” Neher said. “I think that probably leads to a lot more donations.”
Alexia Kadish said she shudders to think what the past year would have been like without Team Ethan.
“It has been the difference between getting up everyday and not getting up everyday to know that we’ve had the support of so many people standing with us, wrapping their arms around us, both literally and figuratively,” she said. “It’s something that Scott and I talk about all the time, and we are so grateful.”
‘What Family Does For Each Other’
There still is a long way to go. Ethan’s medical expenses topped $1 million earlier this year. His home health care nursing staff alone costs about $150,000 per year out-of-pocket, Scott Kadish said.
The Kadishes have no idea how long Ethan will need such expensive care. Team Ethan organizers said they would be there for the duration.
“This is my family, and this is what family does for each other,” said Brett Stern, a close friend who helped launch Team Ethan. “It’s that simple.”
Now that Ethan is home, the family spends far more time together. The Kadishes have even started going out as a family again.
They all went to a Cincinnati Reds game on Mother’s Day, thanks to a friend who had access to a luxury suite.
Alexia Kadish said she would never forget how Ethan’s face lit up during the seventh inning stretch when the crowd sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
These are small but important victories on Ethan’s difficult path of recovery.
As Zakary Kadish said of his brother: “He can’t really interact with everything as he used to, but that doesn’t mean he has to be shut out from the world.”
Throughout the past year, the Kadishes have worked hard to maintain a sense of normalcy for Zakary, 17, and Elyse, 11.
Zakary finished his junior year at Loveland High School and started visiting prospective colleges. Elyse finished fifth grade at Loveland Intermediate School and went back to URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute earlier this month.
Elyse was at the camp last summer when Ethan was hurt. As emotional as it was for the Kadishes to drive her back there this summer, Alexia Kadish said she’s glad her daughter wanted to go.
Life for the Kadishes is about looking to the future, with hope and determination.
That’s how Scott and Alexia Kadish are spending this June 29, the anniversary of the split second that changed everything for their family.
They are spending it with Ethan, Alexia Kadish said, looking forward, not back.
For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.