Jennifer (Vaughan) Kennedy was a candidate for a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and an intern in Mississippi in the fall of 2004 when a handsome prosthetist attending to her patient caught her eye.
And she caught his.
When he inquired about the new intern, his informant replied, "You know she's an amputee?"
As it turned out the partnering prosthetist, Brad Kennedy, was, too. He soon became her gym partner, friend and kindred connection.
Early on, Brad offered her a "free" pass to work out at his gym. A happy marriage and two daughters later, Jennifer knows that Brad actually paid for that gym pass.
That's appropriate, perhaps, because Jennifer Kennedy '03, '04 DPT certainly did not get a free pass to the happy life she is living. She earned it, instead, with an outlook so positive that SAU Assistant Vice President for Admissions Meg Halligan '89 still remembers her as "an angel sent to St. Ambrose to live up to our mission."
Kennedy graduated high school a valedictorian, talented gymnast and cheerleader. She was bound for SAU on scholarship, with plans to enroll in the DPT program and eager to join the cheerleading team.
During her senior year of high school, however, she developed a blood clot in the main artery behind her right knee. Complications the following summer led to amputation.
She sought prayer, loving support, online education, and physical therapy to endure the darkest time of her life. But it wasn't dark for long. Kennedy reported to St. Ambrose having missed only a semester. And she did indeed lead cheers, sporting a bee-decorated prosthetic leg and a contagious smile. She also earned her DPT degree, of course.
Kevin Farrell, PhD, Kennedy's DPT adviser, said she never considered what she "couldn't do." Instead, she always examined what she had already done, merely as a checklist for the things she hadn't done yet.
At age 13, Kennedy began researching the best colleges to study physical therapy. One physical therapist told her, "Ambrose teaches their students to think better." But by the start of her senior year of high school, she had begun to wonder if she was committing to a career too soon.
In her personal tragedy, Kennedy found her answer. "When I lost my leg," she said, "it was like God flashing a neon sign that therapy is what He wanted me to do; helping others who were experiencing a life-altering experience as I had."
In return, she found a husband and a wonderful life.