Jill Kern still vividly remembers the knock on her window.
March 12th 2016. Jill and her husband Chris had just gone to bed. A few hours earlier, they had dropped their 17-year old daughter Ashley off at her friend’s house for a sleepover.
Then, the knock.
“It was my brother at the window saying that Ashley's been hurt and that we have to get to ECMC," Jill said.
Jill and Chris rushed to the hospital. They did not know how badly their daughter had been hurt, or what had happened, until the doctors pulled them out of the hospital’s waiting area.
"[The doctors] told us that our daughter was shot and I don't really remember too much after that. It was probably the worst day of my life."
Ashley had been hit in the back by a bullet as she and her friend were leaving a party on Glendale Place near Canisius College. The bullet fragmented, causing severe damage to her lung and spinal cord. She was paralyzed from the chest down.
"I knelt down by the bed she was in, and you know, was holding her hand, and she just looked at me and said 'I'm sorry Dad'," Chris recalls.
Ashley and her friend had been at that party for five minutes, according to her parents. The teenage girls quickly realized the party was not what they had anticipated.
“[Police] call it collateral damage,” Chris said.
Within two weeks of the shooting, the Kern family admitted Ashley into aggressive physical therapy. She was in an in-patient program in New Jersey for several weeks. Months later, Ashley is still going to New Jersey weekly for rehab at two separate facilities: The Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation and Project Walk Mount Laurel.
In six months, the family has spent at least $30,000 on Ashley’s treatment. The costs will continue to climb as they seek to purchase a specialized RT600 machine that works to re-teach the brain and muscles to work together.
But with the Buffalo winter approaching, the Kerns fear Ashley will have a setback. Since she’s paralyzed, she can’t regulate her own body temperature.
The family is now setting its sights on Project Walk Orlando. The center is a franchise that operates similarly to its New Jersey counterpart. However, Orlando has a glaring advantage: its weather.
Project Walk Orlando has become so renowned that people come from all over the world to work with its equipment and physical therapists. Many people are also drawn to the facility because the co-founder, Amanda Perla, is a client herself. She was paralyzed in a 2007 car crash.
Because the organization’s methods are so aggressive and experimental, Project Walk is not covered by insurance. The not-for-profit clinic charges 100-dollars per session.
"We're not limited in anybody's goals or abilities because we're private pay," Perla said.
Fundraisers have been held to help with the costs of the RT600 and Project Walk Orlando, but the Kerns will likely still be spending tens of thousands of dollars on their daughter’s road to recovery.
But the family will spare no expense if it means getting this former varsity cheerleader and softball player walking again. Doctors have given her a 60% chance of walking again, according to Ashley’s parents.
Jill and Chris are fiercely optimistic that Project Walk Orlando will get Ashley on her feet.
“I'm ready for this fight. There's no doubt. I'm not giving up," Jill said.
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