Ben Knapp pushes forward with rehab


Campus Community school seventh grader Niyzjae Parker, 12, holds Ben Knapp’s hand as he responds to questions from other students. At left is caregiver Michelle Cote and Same Ouku, Ben’s nurse. (Special to Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — He lives by the credo “Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle happens.”

So tenacious Ben Knapp keeps seeking a better life ahead.

Progress is measured in marathon terms, not a sprint.

There are no quick fixes as the 23-year-old’s recovery from a 2011 brain injury continues.

Those closest to him don’t really notice the gradual improvements during regular interactions, but appreciate feedback from those who see it after being away for months or perhaps years.

He’s a college student today with lots of interests, friends and smiles. Ben’s interested in Stephen King and Ray Bradbury books, action hero movies and has attended the Firefly Music Festival in Dover twice.

And he’s also limited by an inability to see, speak or move in his wheelchair more than just a tiny bit.

So Ben pushes doggedly forward with rehabilitation while enjoying the moment with those around him.

Saturday’s Cougars for a Cause 5K Run/Walk took place at the Campus Community School that Ben attended from first through eighth grade before eventually graduating from Dover High. The annual event was scheduled to raise money for his medical fund, which is focused on locating some communication device that will assist him in increasingly more complex classes at Wesley College.

On Friday night at Wesley, Salesianum played James M. Bennett High of Salisbury, Maryland in a boys’ lacrosse match, with all proceeds from ticket sales going to the medical fund.

“Ben has a combination of problems to address when it comes to finding a solution through technology,” his dad Chip said, noting that contacts with dozens of speech therapists have yielded no results either.

“We’ve done an extensive search for potential answers but are finding that many are cost prohibitive and come with no guarantee of success.

“I’ve been studying computer code to try and create one myself. If the right machine is out there we either haven’t found it or nothing has been created yet, but we’re still looking all the time for what’s right.”

At CCS, Ben is considered a super hero among the students he’s met there in the past couple months.

A group of 16 kids expressed interest in telling his story to their classmates, and made presentations that stressed his belief in never giving up and finding things in common with people who don’t look the same as most everyone else.

On Wednesday afternoon, five CCS middle school age students Ben went with to elementary classes to introduce him, review a three-minute documentary about his life and answer questions.

The group was formed after substitute teacher Michelle Cote — Ben’s caregiver, advocate and friend for six years — looked to build participation in the yearly 5K by generating student interest. The ones who showed an interest quickly accepted him, she said.

“Kids nowadays are quite open to those who are different than them,” Ms. Cote said. “The ones taking part got to know him better and learned just how much they had in common, which made them extremely understanding and supportive of who he is and the situation he’s in.”

Ms. Cote considers herself “the lucky one” when it comes to bonding with Ben, while his father describes her as “the angel that came into his life.” She or nurse Same Ouku stay with Ben at all times, with Mr. Ouku handling the overnight watch while he sleeps.

A three-minute video about Ben’s life before (including a lefty baseball pitcher, video game and piano player) and after the injury was narrated and partially written by his sister Emma, and produced by his dad. On a road trip with his Wesley assistant football coach dad seven years ago, Ben stopped breathing in a hotel room while sleeping overnight and his brain was deprived of oxygen for approximately 45 minutes before being revived by CPR.

After some initial hesitation on Wednesday, the students peppered Ben and the presenters with questions, and still had their hands up waiting to ask more when it was time to go.

Ben reacted with wide smiles when asked about his favorite action heroes and movies.

“With all that interaction, he’s pushing himself to be out there in the community and remained engaged with people,” Chip said. “He’s become more active in clubs, and classes and events, and been positive and upbeat throughout it all. We think of Ben as really inspirational every day and never see him down.”

Said Ms. Cote, “I’ve got the best job in the world and can’t imagine ever not being there for him. It’s amazing to see his impact on others in this world and watch them open up to him.

“I get a renewed sense of humanity and have hundreds of stories of people who have reached out and done things for him, sometimes anonymously. I feel very strongly about Ben’s ability to enrich the lives of other people and I know their support and attention means a lot to him.”

Javier Flynn can relate to Ben, since “some people in my family have Down Syndrome” and he helps them as well.

The students learned to communicate with Ben through hand squeezes indicating certain letters while eventually spelling out words.

“It makes me feel accomplished to make a difference in somebody’s life who needs it,” the seventh-grader said after presenting to a class.

Seventh-grader Alyssa Eaton enjoyed the opportunity to teach “other people not to judge other people” and described Ben as a “good friend who is really nice and laughs a lot.”

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