All photos/art by Ian Aldrich
This is a story that could have turned out much differently; nobody needs to remind David Krempels of that. It’s also a story about perseverance, about one man giving back to those who’ve suffered through a similar kind of trauma.
In June 1992, Krempels, a 42-year-old building contractor living in Newmarket, New Hampshire, was on his honeymoon in Maine. He and his new wife, Ettamae, were headed north to Portland one sunny afternoon when, just south of the city, a tractor trailer plowed into the back of their car. Ettamae was killed immediately; Krempels, meanwhile, clung to his own life, the victim of a serious brain injury.
He stayed in a coma for several weeks, remained in acute care for nearly three months, and then began the long process of grieving and reclaiming his health. He made incredible gains, “but slowly I realized I was never going to be the same person,” he says.
Soon, this son of a minister reached another conclusion: He wanted to help others like him. In 1995, after a jury awarded him a large settlement, Krempels tapped into this new money to offer grants to those reeling from the financial aftershocks of brain injury. But as he delved more deeply into the work and his own recovery, Krempels realized that it wasn’t just money that others like him wanted. “I’d go to these support groups,” he explains, “and people would be saying, I really wish we could do this more than once a month.”
A different kind of philanthropy called to him. Today, the Krempels Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a premier post-rehab facility for those who’ve suffered through brain trauma. Stroke victims, car accident survivors, people who’ve battled back from brain tumors–three days a week, eight hours a day, residents from around the Seacoast stream into its headquarters. In a world that doesn’t often view these survivors fairly, the Krempels Center gives them a chance to socialize, interact, and regain a sense of normalcy. There’s community and camaraderie, family support groups, and member workshops that tackle subjects ranging from sex and relationships to computer skills and bill paying to fitness and word retrieval.
“There are many types of therapy,” says Lee Harvey, an architect who was forced to retire following a massive stroke. “Learning to walk, that’s obvious. But less obvious is a therapist reading a book with you. You wouldn’t think it’s therapeutic, but it is.”
“What these people need most is friendship,” Krempels says. He’s sitting in the cafeteria; it’s lunchtime, and around him there’s the buzz of chatter and laughter. “Look at them. They’re smiling. They’re talking. They’ve got a life and they deserve it. How great is that?”
For more on the Krempels Center, visit: krempelscenter.org