Cheering for Kennedy
By Gary Popp
Published in News on November 2, 2011 1:46 PM
Goldsboro Police Sgt. Dwayne Dean is seen with his daughter, Kennedy, 7, in her room at Pitt Memorial Hospital. Kennedy is recovering from a brain hemorrhage she suffered in early September. Doctors say she is doing well but that full recovery will take time.
Cards and letters of encouragement cover a wall in Kennedy's hospital room. A benefit to help the Dean family will be held Friday at Northeast Elementary School.
One minute 7-year-old Kennedy Dean was playing on the playground at Northeast Elementary with other second-graders at her school.
Seconds later, she was suffering from what would later be diagnosed as a brain hemorrhage.
Virtually each day since that traumatic event on the afternoon of Sept. 9, little Kennedy has beaten the odds and is making her way back to being the healthy, outgoing and imaginative little girl who likes to read and play soccer.
And by her side have been her parents, Dwayne and Kim, and her 16-year-old brother, Hunter.
And that battle back has not been easy.
Dwayne and Kim have stayed by their daughter's side, not once returning to their Pikeville home since she was airlifted to Pitt Memorial Hospital several hours after an arteriovenous malformation, a group of abnormal blood vessels that Kennedy was born with, brought on the hemorrhage.
And as tough as it has been for Dwayne, a sergeant with the Goldsboro Police Department, he said he marvels at his daughter's courage and is inspired by her determination to recover.
"She most definitely is a miracle. She is my little miracle, and I am glad that God chose her to use in his plan. I feel honored by that," Dwayne said. "She is going to walk out of this hospital, too. There is no doubt in my mind. I don't know when that is going to be, but I know that she is."
Sept. 9 was a normal Friday in the Dean household.
Kim went to work. Dwayne helped get Kennedy ready for school and then drove her to a friend's house so they could go to school together.
After dropping his daughter off, he headed to law enforcement classes with other police officers in Wilson.
Hours later, both he and Kim were contacted by school personnel who informed them that Kennedy was feeling ill and needed to be picked up. Dwayne said Kim was able to talk with Kennedy over the phone and tell that her she was on her way.
Before her mother was able to reach the school, Kennedy was unconscious. Soon after, emergency personnel arrived at the school and took Kennedy to Wayne Memorial Hospital where a CT scan was immediately conducted.
Doctors told Kim and Dwayne that Kennedy was in very poor condition and needed to be taken to Pitt Memorial Hospital.
Arriving at Pitt Memorial around 6 p.m., Kennedy underwent her first surgery, which lasted two hours.
"That surgery, that is what saved her life," Dwayne said.
It did not take long for friends, family and neighbors to rally behind the Deans and Kennedy.
Dwayne said by the time the surgery was over, nearly 80 people had arrived to show their support. He said the group kept getting larger and larger, and that it grew out of two waiting areas, until people were just milling around the hallways hoping to hear any good news about Kennedy's status.
"I remember being in that hallway," he said. "It was full, shoulder to shoulder. Everybody was kind of peering up trying to get a look.
"I asked them to pray, to pray for my little girl because that is what she needed."
For the next 11 days and nights, Kim and Dwayne stayed in the room with their daughter.
A relative has created a Facebook page -- Praying Together for Kennedy Dean.
Dwayne, who had never posted on the social networking website, began a routine of making regular entries on the page.
In less than two months he has posted more than 100 updates, and the page had attracted more than 2,000 members.
"It is almost like therapy in itself," he said. "It helps me express feelings because I want to put it out there what Kennedy is doing. I want everybody out there to be able to share with us."
And he does not hesitate to ask for spiritual support, either.
"I don't hold anything back because there may be some specific things I want you to pray for," he said.
Kennedy's status updates have evolved into a bit of a mission for Dean -- encouraging others to find their faith. It is a calling, of sorts, he said, brought about by the situation his family faces and the challenge he says God has placed before them.
"The Lord has used this to help me get out things on that particular Web page that He has laid upon my heart that I think people need to hear, the ones that have kind of wandered away from the Lord, the ones that don't know the Lord," he said. "I am glad that He has allowed me to do a little preaching. This is truly a miracle happening before our eyes. Don't be so blind that you are not realizing that."
The Facebook page includes a document written by Dwayne that he titled, "The Prelude."
In it, he recalls what his family experienced Sept. 9 and the support they received from hospital personnel, family, friends and fellow police officers that helped them get through that especially difficult time.
Nearly three weeks after Kennedy was admitted to Pitt Memorial, a second surgery was performed to remove the arteriovenous malformation.
"That was an extremely long day for us," Dwayne said.
About a week later, Kennedy was taken off a ventilator.
Dwayne said since the very beginning Kennedy has been progressing above doctors' expectations
"Just to show you how much spunk, sassiness and determination she has, the very next day (after the Sept. 9 surgery) she was already doing things way earlier than expected, so, of course, that is great encouragement that everything is going to be fine," Dwayne said.
He said he and Kim continue to be in awe of their daughter's progress and are excited for her to begin speaking.
"She is really working hard with the things that she is doing, with physical therapy, with occupation therapy and with speech. You can tell she is wanting to verbalize, she just can't get it out yet," Dwayne said.
"With her being on the (ventilator) for those four weeks her vocal chords are, like, wide open. They have to learn how to relax and then kind of start working. (Her voice) is in there. And we know that is in there because we can hear it when she sneezes and coughs."
Dwayne said the little milestones are moments of great joy he shares with those who are watching Kennedy recover, but he and his family know there is still a long journey ahead.
"It's just going to take some time. This is a marathon and not a sprint, and we understand that," he said. "The Lord has blessed her and brought her a long way in the seven weeks that we have been here."
Dwayne said Kennedy's personality is beginning to reemerge and she is already giving out high fives and thumbs up and squeezing fingers to give directions like turning on the television.
"She is very cognizant of who is coming into the room and, now, she is actually able to help change her clothes," he said. "She is responding wonderfully with the things they are able to do right now."
The Deans are already thinking about Kennedy's transition out of the intensive car unit and into the rehabilitation area in the hospital.
"We are just looking forward to the next step and getting to where we are working on getting all of the muscles woke up and starting to walk and kind of do all those things again," Dwayne said. "She is getting stronger and stronger each day."
She will have to go through one more surgery soon, but he is confident she will win that battle, too.
As Dwayne watches his daughter slowly heal, he rests assured that what he is witnessing is part of God's plan.
"He snatched her from death's door," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind."
And, along with his miracle daughter, he and his family will never forget the groundswell of support that has helped them get through the last two months -- even if those days have become somewhat of a blur.
"A big thank you because Kim and I will not be able to remember what everyone has done for us," he said. "Keep praying for us we still have a long road to go, but we are making progress."