For the media

Keeping her husband’s adventurous spirit alive

By The Health News Team | June 18, 2024
Fran Kennedy and Brian Smith of San Diego at Half Dome in Yosemite
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Fran Kennedy and Brian Smith shared a love for outdoor adventures, and their love for each other endured through his recovery from serious injuries.

Fran Kennedy and Brian Smith of San Diego on their wedding day
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Fran and Brain married atop Half Dome in Yosemite with a handful of friends and family.

Fran Kennedy and Brian Smith of San Diego on vacation
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A sense of adventure brought Fran and Brian to many places allowing them to see the sights.

Fran Kennedy and Brian Smith of San Diego during his rehab
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Fran supported Brian through an extensive recovery with Sharp HealthCare's Community Re-Entry Program.

Fran Kennedy of San Diego at Sharp HealthCare
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Today Fran donates to Sharp's Community Re-Entry program in hopes other people can benefit, just like her late husband, Brian.

Fran Kennedy and Brian Smith married atop Half Dome in Yosemite. The two, who first met as neighbors, shared a love of adventure — Brian was an avid rock climber and mountain biker, while Fran was a competitive triathlete.

The couple’s wedding day started with a 4 am journey, hiking the first few miles up Half Dome together. Brian and six climbers then scaled the face of the massive rock formation, while Fran had eight hikers with her on the trails. Their ceremony began at 1 pm, and the entire group hiked back down by 8 pm.

"It was my 19-mile walk up and down the aisle," Fran says.

Their deep love for one another, Fran says, carried them through a serious mountain bike accident that led to Brian needing heart and brain surgeries, his recovery at Sharp HealthCare's Community Re-Entry Program and his death in 2015. Throughout it all, Fran remained committed to keeping Brian’s memory and spirit alive.

A life-changing accident

On November 6, 2010, Brian, who built 25 miles of trails in Deer Canyon known as “The Tunnels,” and several jump trails in a popular mountain biking area in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Reserve, had a serious bike crash. The accident caused broken bones in his left hand, several broken ribs and a broken sternum, which ruptured his aorta.

“Our lives changed in an instant,” Fran says.

Brian underwent emergency surgery to deploy a stent to seal the aortic rupture. Days later, he sustained a hemorrhagic stroke in his right frontal temporal lobe.

The neurosurgeon performed a craniotomy to remove Brian’s skull cap and stop the hemorrhaging. He also placed Brian in a coma for two weeks to help his brain heal. Brian spent five more weeks in the hospital, relearning basic motor and cognitive skills.

Shortly after returning home, the top part of Brian’s injured brain collapsed into the bottom part, a condition known as sunken brain syndrome. The neurosurgeon performed a cranioplasty to reinsert Brian’s skull cap and restore the natural fluid balance in his brain.

“It was amazing that when Brian woke up after his surgery, it was as if the lights were back on in his brain,” Fran says.

A long journey to recovery

Fran and Brian’s love for each other was continuously evident in their dedication to ensuring he regained his strength, balance, cognition and coordination.

Brian began his outpatient care and recovery at Sharp’s Community Re-Entry Program at Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center. The Community Re-Entry Program provides comprehensive, specialized rehabilitation to help patients recover following a brain injury related to an accident, illness, stroke or other neurological disorder.

"From day one, the whole team accepted us as their family," Fran says.

Fran sat in on several of Brian’s rehabilitation sessions for speech, occupational, physical and neuropsychological therapies, reinforcing the skills Brian was learning to help support him at home. “We used a lot of post-it notes around the house as checklists to help Brian improve his memory,” she says.

The injury to Brian’s right brain impacted several functions on the left side of his body — notably, he lost visual recognition on his left side and had limited depth perception.

One thing that made a significant difference: Sharp’s Dynavision Light Board, which helps train peripheral vision, coordination and motor skills. The board has four quadrants with a series of lights that would appear for Brian to find and recognize by moving his head back and forth or up and down.

“We called it the ‘scan-scan,’” Fran says. “As we took walks, I would say ‘scan-scan’ to help him find and avoid obstacles in his way.”

Over the next three months, Brian regained much of his physical strength and cognitive abilities. The board was instrumental in not only helping Brian learn a new skill, but also to be able to hike over 10 miles a day.

“The Dynavision Board was invaluable to help Brian get back outdoors,” Fran says.

Keeping Brian’s legacy alive

Brian developed a seizure disorder in 2012 that was controllable for a few years. However, it started to grow more severe and frequent in 2015, and Brian died on December 28, 2015.

“I was so grateful to the Sharp therapists for the care we received to give us five years after Brian’s accident,” Fran says. “He was an outdoorsman and was able to get more autonomy with all the support and help we had from the therapists and staff at the Community Re-Entry Program.”

Since Brian's passing, Fran has worked with the program and the Survivors Rehabilitation Fund to improve the equipment used to treat brain injury survivors. In memory of Brian, Fran made gifts that enabled Sharp to purchase a treadmill, stair climber and an updated version of the Dynavision Light Board called the Bioness Integrated Therapy System (BITS), which comes with an interactive touch screen and 40 therapy programs.

Fran spoke at this year’s annual Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center Poker Tournament, hosted by the Sharp HealthCare Foundation. The tournament has raised over $7 million for traumatic brain injury survivors over the past 39 years.

“Brain injury survivors are a group of people who are underserved,” Fran says. “It feels great to give back to help survivors develop critical skills. I want to see others go through this program and benefit, just as Brian and I thrived.“

Learn more about the Community Re-Entry Program at Sharp and the Allison DeRose Rehabilitation Center; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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