Father and Son
When it was time for Kevin to leave Magee, a caseworker asked Joseph where his son would be going. He looked at her like she was crazy. “Where else would he go?” he remembers thinking. “Of course, he’s going home.”
Joseph knew it would be difficult caring for Kevin without the around-the-clock care provided by doctors and nurses at Hahnemann, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (where Kevin underwent many surgeries from November 19 to December 9), and Magee (where he rehabbed from December 9 to February 23, 2012). But it was also something he knew he could do.
For him, the most difficult parts have involved “going through hoops” to make sure the state, through its Medicaid program, covers the things that Kevin needs, like the lift system for his bed. (Other, out-of-pocket expenses—which donations have helped Joseph to meet—have included purchasing a shower trolley, a used van for transport, and a generator for the house.) There was a small battle when an attempt was made to reduce Kevin’s nursing care from 24 to 20 hours per day. Joseph argued—successfully—that that wouldn’t work because Kevin has to be turned every two hours at night to prevent bedsores and has to be given medication throughout the day.
“A lot of times he gets some grief from some of the people we deal with, whether it’s the nursing agency or something along those lines,” Kevin says. “But he’s a rock. He just does what he needs to do in order to get things done the right way and provide the best care for me.”
Advocating for Kevin has become Joseph’s full-time job. He used to work as an accountant for Johnson Matthey, a global chemicals company, but after the shooting he used up all of his vacation time to take off through the end of 2011, then used up all of his family-leave time. When he turned 62 last April, he was able to qualify for Social Security benefits and retire. He even received a parting gift of $19,000 from his colleagues.
Before Kevin was shot, Joseph had other plans for his retirement—like visiting every baseball stadium in the country—but, even as he runs around the house answering phone calls and talking to retired carpenters, he always seems upbeat.
“My dad’s been nothing short of incredible,” says Chris, the youngest of the three Neary brothers. “He’s really put his life on hold to make sure Kevin transitioned home, getting the addition done, going through all the paperwork and making sure he’s getting the best care. He put on a brave face and has a positive attitude and that has translated to Kevin. He’s trying to emulate my father.”
Earlier this year, Kevin’s brother Joe hesitated over leaving home to take a new job in development at his alma mater, the University of South Carolina. But his father gave his blessing, and Joe also knew the job opportunity would put him on a better career track and allow him to possibly return to the area down the road, when his father gets older and needs more help taking care of Kevin.
Joseph’s unbreakable spirit is even more remarkable when you consider what happened to his family a decade ago. He and his wife Marian had just dropped Kevin off for his first semester at Penn in August of 2001 when they went to the doctor’s office to get the X-ray results that would change the family’s life for the first time. The doctor told Marian she could die in three to six months if she didn’t respond to the treatment for the cancer ravaging her body. If she did, she could live up to five more years. “We ended up getting just over 15 months,” Joseph says with a sigh. Shortly before she died, Marian told her husband that she felt badly because, as a nurse, she should be helping the sick patient in the next room, instead of lying in bed herself. Then she said that she regretted that she had never volunteered for Habitat for Humanity.
Joseph tried to move on as best as he could. He has a girlfriend who’s very supportive. And like his son, he refuses to accept anyone’s pity, quickly dismissing the idea that his family has endured more than its share of bad luck.
“It’s not a function of luck,” he says firmly. “You get dealt certain things and you have to make choices in terms of this is the hand you’ve got.”
But there are difficult days. Occasionally he gets frustrated that he has to drop everything when Kevin wants to go out. He lost his composure while reading his victim-impact statement at Christopher Easton’s sentencing hearing and needed the prosecutor to finish. And, of course, he worries. There’s always worry.
On a recent weekday afternoon, as he’s talking about his son’s condition with a visitor, he hears a thud from the room where Kevin is with one of his nurses.
“You all right?” Joseph calls out.
He doesn’t get an immediate response. A concerned look spreads across his face. Would he have to rush Kevin to the hospital again? Could this be like the time he ran downstairs to see blood in the shower because Kevin’s catheter was not properly pulled out? Or the time Kevin started acting loopy and rocking his wheelchair because of a urinary tract infection?
“Everything all right?” he calls out again with an increasingly alarmed tone, before getting up and walking to the door that connects the living room to Kevin’s section of the house.
Just then, he hears his son call back to him.
“Hey Dad, why don’t you just look on your phone?”
Kevin is referring to the video feed the Delco Alarm System guys had set up just hours earlier that allows Joseph to see into Kevin’s room with his cell phone.
Letting out a hearty laugh, Joseph returns to his seat. His worried look is gone for now.