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Community rallies in support of paralyzed Colwich boy, praying for miracle (+video)

VIDEO: Community comes together for Jak Kerschen

About 30 people gathered Saturday at the Kerschen home, near Colwich, to build a nearly 1,000-square-foot wheelchair-friendly addition to the house for for Jak's return next year. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)
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About 30 people gathered Saturday at the Kerschen home, near Colwich, to build a nearly 1,000-square-foot wheelchair-friendly addition to the house for for Jak's return next year. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)

Jak Kerschen’s family believes in miracles.

Why shouldn’t they?

Kerschen’s cousin, Chase Kear, survived a pole-vaulting accident in late 2008 through what many believe was the divine intervention of Father Emil Kapaun.

Now the Kerschens are praying to Kapaun for that same divine intervention for their son, Jak, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a car crash Oct. 4.

Kerschen, a sophomore at Andale High School, is undergoing rehabilitation at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., where he likely will remain until the new year, said his mother, Rita.

Family friends in the Andale-Colwich area have been planning how to equip the Kerschen home for Jak’s return next year since shortly after the accident.

On Saturday, more than 30 people gathered at the Kerschen house with his father, Denny, to construct those additions – nearly doubling the square footage of the house, adding wheelchair ramps and a new bedroom with bathroom.

“I’m just awestruck by all the help we’ve been receiving,” Denny Kerschen said. “I’m almost speechless about the whole thing. It brings me to tears.”

The crash

In the late evening on Oct. 3, Jak Kerschen, 15, got in a car with four of his high school friends at his home between Goddard and Colwich.

He buckled into the back middle seat as his friends also strapped in.

They began driving down 183rd Street, the dirt road on which the Kerschens live.

About a half-mile later, the driver of the car lost control of it.

The car rolled twice and then collided into a tree row.

The driver and the other three passengers were OK – “a couple of concussions, a broken finger, a bruised tailbone,” according to Rita Kerschen.

Jak Kerschen was still strapped in his seat, hanging upside down in the toppled car.

He told his friends he couldn’t feel his legs.

Kerschen’s younger brother, Aaron, was driving home from where he worked at a Halloween “spook house” when he came upon the scene, Rita Kerschen said.

His parents, Rita and Denny, had celebrated two anniversaries earlier that night, their 23rd wedding anniversary and the seventh anniversary of Kear’s recovery.

Aaron Kerschen called his father after helping unstrap his brother from where he was dangling.

Jak Kerschen was taken to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis, where he stayed in the intensive-care unit for several days, Rita Kerschen said.

The crash had dislocated his vertebrae between C6 and C7 – an injury that typically results in paralysis.

The morning after the crash, Rita Kerschen posted online, requesting that people pray to Kapaun for a full recovery.

We’ve seen those miracles before firsthand. Anything’s possible.

Rita Kerschen, Jak Kerschen’s mother

Kerschen underwent surgery on Oct. 4 and remained at the hospital until Oct. 15, when he was transferred to Craig Hospital in Colorado for rehabilitation.

His recovery has been slow so far, said Rita Kerschen, who is currently in Englewood with Jak.

He can only be out of bed for four hours every day, and he has had blood pressure issues and bed sores.

But things haven’t been all bad.

Shortly after arriving in Colorado, Jak took a personal call from the head coach of his favorite basketball team: The University of Kansas Jayhawks.

Bill Self had told his team about Kerschen’s accident, after Kerschen’s family had e-mailed him about it, and he decided to ring Kerschen up.

He sent a signed picture and a KU warmup jacket to Kerschen in the mail.

“They’ve been very good to us,” Rita Kerschen said.

Doctors at Craig Hospital estimate Kerschen will be there until at least January.

Is a miraculous recovery possible?

The Kerschens and 763 members of the “Prayers for Jak” Facebook group think so.

“We’ve seen those miracles before firsthand,” Rita Kerschen said, in reference to Kear. “Anything’s possible.”

About 30 people gathered Saturday at the Kerschen home, near Colwich, to build a nearly 1,000-square-foot wheelchair-friendly addition to the house for for Jak's return next year. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)

Support from the community

Denny Kerschen gathered together the 30-some builders who had donated their time Saturday to frame additions to the Kerschen house.

He took off his camo hat and thanked everyone who had come, blessing them.

Saturday’s turnout was emblematic of the type of overwhelming support the Kerschens have received since Jak’s accident.

The coordinator of Saturday’s build, who asked not to be named, said “as soon as the wreck happened, we knew they were going to need better facilities once Jak came home.”

900-1,000 square feet were added to the Kerschen home to accommodate Jak’s wheelchair

Everything was donated, and the size of the project made its cost likely more than $100,000.

It should be completely finished by January, he said.

“That’s why we live out here,” the coordinator said. “If somebody needs something, it doesn’t take anything to get 25 people out here on a Saturday to show up and get (it) done.”

Fundraisers have been held for the Kerschens in Colwich, Andale, Haven and Wellington, as well as many other schools in the area. Those fundraisers have raised thousands for the Kerschens.

“It’s incredible the amount of support that Jak and our family have received,” Denny Kerschen said. “I truly believe that the world is full of good, and this just goes to show it. You just don’t hear about all the good stuff that goes on, and we’re living proof of it here today.”

Rita Kerschen said she thinks it is a miracle the other four in the car with Jak that night were not seriously injured.

And she, along with many others, will continue to pray for a miracle for Jak.

How to contribute to the Kerschens

Friends of the Kerschens have set up an account at Legacy Bank for people who would like to contribute to Jak Kerschen’s medical expenses and recovery. People can visit any Legacy Bank location and ask for the Jak Kerschen Medical Fund. People can also mail checks payable to “Jak Kerschen Medical Fund” to Legacy Bank, 240 W. Wichita Ave. Colwich, KS 67030.

Legacy Bank locations in Wichita:

▪ 2055 N. Woodlawn

▪ 8725 W. Central

▪ 7555 W. 21st St.

▪ 3711 N. Ridge

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