LOVELAND, Ohio – It's time for French I A at Loveland Middle School.
Ethan Kadish sits in his wheelchair near the back of the classroom. This is Ethan's second time in beginning French. He took the class as a seventh grader -- before the injury that nearly killed him. He seems comfortable here.
Class starts, and Ethan moves his head toward the melody of his classmates' voices as they repeat after teacher Hillary Pecsok.
"Qui est-ce?" Pecsok says.
"Qui est-ce?" the class echoes.
"Qui est-ce means who is it," the teacher explains.
"C'est une copine," she says.
"C'est une copine," the boys and girls repeat.
Pecsok asks what that sentence could mean. Ethan groans audibly and smiles.
"I think Ethan might know. I think he's showing recognition," the teacher says with a wide grin. "It means, 'It's a friend.'"
It's impossible to know if Ethan remembers the answer or what he understands.
In the nearly 15 months since he was struck by lightning while attending a Jewish summer camp near Indianapolis, Ethan has made remarkable progress. The lightning stopped Ethan's heart. For many minutes, his brain didn't get enough oxygen. His parents didn't know if he would survive on June 29, 2013.
Now he's back at Loveland Middle School – and even back in French class.
But Ethan, who is now 14, is far from recovered.
He can't walk or talk or go to the bathroom on his own. He eats through a tube in his stomach. He spends hours each week at physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions, working to remake connections in his brain to regain control of his arms and legs and learn to talk again.
"He has come a long way from last year. However, there's still a long road in front of him and us and still lots of unknowns," said Alexia Kadish, Ethan's mom. "We have no idea. No guarantees. No anything."
Staggering Long-Term Expenses
Ever since Ethan's injury, a small army of friends and supporters known collectively as "Team Ethan" has rallied around the Kadish family to help. They renovated the family's home to make it wheelchair accessible. For about a year, members of Team Ethan brought the family meals several times a week. They drove Ethan's younger sister, Elyse, to soccer and took his older brother, Zakary, for his first college visit.
And they helped raise money – lots of it.
Scott Kadish, Ethan's dad, said the efforts of Team Ethan and supporters across the country have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help with the boy's ongoing medical care.
It's a big number, but Ethan has even bigger long-term expenses.
He has a home health care nurse with him 18 hours a day Monday through Friday and 16 hours a day on the weekends. That alone costs the family more than $100,000 per year, Scott Kadish said.
There are thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses for Ethan's therapies and the equipment the Kadishes buy to do his exercises at home. Those expenses are growing, not shrinking, Alexia Kadish said.
"Over the months, we've increased therapies, not decreased," she said. "We've added more areas of therapy as we see them being more appropriate for Ethan."
Ethan's parents "feel like a window has opened," she said.
"While that window is open, we want to make sure to direct our resources and attention to providing as many opportunities as possible for him to continue to move his recovery in the right direction," she said.
That has meant other treatments, too, such as sessions with a chiropractor to work on Ethan's crooked spine. The Kadishes also are exploring hippotherapy for Ethan, in hopes that riding a horse could improve his brain function.
"Over the last year, we sometimes felt like a window might be opening and then it would slam shut and lock," Alexia Kadish said. "So it feels like it's open, we're letting the air in and we're just going with it."
The family has good health insurance, but it's not enough.
Scott Kadish is a group manager in purchasing at the Procter & Gamble Co. No health insurance policy covers the kind of expenses the family expects to incur for Ethan, he said, which could range anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000 per year.
That makes Team Ethan's ongoing fundraising efforts as important as ever, said Jen Smilg, Team Ethan's social media manager.
Home Run Derby Sunday, Sept. 28
The next big fundraiser is the 2nd Annual Home Run Derby starting at noon Sept. 28 at the Loveland Middle School Baseballs Fields. Participants get 10 swings for $10, and winners will be named in every age division for baseball and softball.
Ethan was in the hospital for last year's Home Run Derby. The Kadishes expect him to be in attendance this time. And organizers of the event have even borrowed adaptive equipment that will allow Ethan to take his first swing at a baseball since his injury by pushing a button to swing a bat.
Seeing Ethan in person might help people understand how far he still has to go in his recovery.
It won't surprise students at Loveland Middle School.
Ethan returned there last March as an eighth grader. His parents and the school staff decided to keep Ethan at the middle school again this year to repeat eighth grade. He spends most of his school day in Rachael Angel's class. She is the school's intervention specialist and Ethan's primary teacher.
She has been working with Ethan on different therapies and exercises, such as trying to get him to push a big, red button that controls a small fan pointed at his face.
Ethan smiles broadly at the rush of air the fan produces. But on a recent Wednesday, he couldn't quite push the button without Angel's help.
Pushing a coaster-sized button doesn't seem like a lot to ask.
But, on some days, it's a lot for Ethan.
Ever since his injury, Ethan has worked hard for every bit of progress and every small victory.
Nobody knows that better than his therapists at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center's Outpatient Neurorehabilitation Team, or ONRT, at the Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Care.
Fighting To Get Better
Ethan goes there twice a week for therapy services.
On a recent afternoon, therapist Patti Sharp put Ethan through his occupational therapy paces in a large well-lit room while his mom asked her questions and sought her advice.
Just six months ago, Ethan's treatment room at Drake had to be small and dimly lit with very little noise or talking. Bright light and chatter were too much for Ethan back then.
"He could have stayed there. He could have stayed in that place," Sharp said as she stretched Ethan's arms one at a time. "And he didn't. That was not a given."
Ethan can still move his legs and arms. For some exercises, Ethan's legs kick straight out, and he pulls his arms tight against his body.
"It's great that his brain can still control his muscles. He's not paralyzed," Sharp said. "We need to get him to do it on purpose. We need to give him the awareness that he has arms and legs. I'm not sure if his brain map – if he even notices that he has extremities. That's normal if you have any kind of traumatic brain injury."
The therapists and Ethan's parents are working to help him strengthen his core. In the months since his injury, his back has become so crooked that his rear end juts out when he's lifted to a standing position.
"It's like the branches on the tree and the leaves on the branches are not going to function without the trunk," Alexia Kadish said. "We've got to get to the trunk, and that's his back and stomach."
It takes four adults to shift Ethan onto his belly, resting his chest and abdomen against a red foam wedge that keeps his chest higher than his hips.
Sharp places his arms at 90-degree angles with his elbows resting on the therapy table.
Ethan lifts his head.
"He's made a tremendous amount of progress," Sharp said. "It used to just throw him into a fit, just flipping him over."
After Ethan completes an hour of occupational therapy on Tuesdays, he gets an hour of physical therapy with Shannon Brausch.
She and Caleb Hagan, Ethan's home health care nurse, scoot the boy from the edge of the therapy table onto a peanut-shaped ball. Brausch pushes him forward gently, and asks Ethan to come back toward her. He slowly lifts his head and leans his back toward Brausch.
"Good job, good job, good job – keep coming," she tells him.
Ethan pushes through his legs, steadying his feet against the the feet of his mother and Hagan, who are sitting on either side of him.
"I didn't even think to have you push through your legs. You problem-solved and used your legs. That's awesome!" Brausch tells Ethan. "I'm so proud of you for figuring that out."
Ethan smiles broadly with what his mom calls his "look of achievement."
It's a major victory that shows how far Ethan has come – and how much farther he has to go.
It also illustrates why it is so important to continue to raise money for Ethan's long-term recovery, Scott Kadish said.
"What we're trying to do is make sure that we raise enough money to give Ethan every opportunity to recover and rehabilitate to the fullest extent that he can do that," he said.
Nobody can tell the Kadishes how far that will be or how long it will take to get there.
"There's not a pill or a surgery we're waiting for or a technology that we're waiting for at this point. It's really his day in and day out hard work," Scott Kadish said. "You can see it in his face. "
For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.
About this story
WCPO reporter Lucy May and WCPO photojournalist Emily Maxwell are following the progress of Ethan Kadish as he continues to recover from being struck by lightning on June 29, 2013. This is the fourth installment. Previous installments are: