With 'a little help from his friends - and a few strangers' - he's ready to walk again

Brett Kane and daughter MacKenzie at their home in Merchantville. She narrated the video.
Brett Kane and daughter MacKenzie at their home in Merchantville. She narrated the video.
Posted: January 20, 2014

Steven Quigley and Brett Kane were classmates at Paul VI High School in Haddon Township, graduating in 1992. They were friendly, but never close.

Kane went to the College of New Jersey, moved to Boston, then back to South Jersey, married, and started a family.

Quigley took a more exotic path, after Rutgers living in Israel, Bali, Japan, and Taiwan, an entrepreneur with crazy adventures and close calls, returning in 2009 to start a business in Philadelphia.

They reacquainted on Facebook - casual, virtual, a photo here, a posting there. Then Kane didn't see any posting for months, didn't hear anything.

He reached out to a mutual friend, who told him Quigley had been in an accident, so bad that he could no longer walk.

"Hey, I hope I'm not prying," Kane e-mailed him, "but I heard something happened. Just wanted to see if you're OK."

Quigley was reluctant to reveal much. Kane kept up the e-mail and, gradually, learned what happened. He also felt that Quigley was struggling.

Kane's got 578 friends on Facebook. But he asked himself: What does friendship really mean?

He started visiting Quigley, who began referring to Kane as "Rockwell." "His life looks like it's out of a Norman Rockwell painting," Quigley said. "He's got two beautiful little girls, a beautiful wife, a home in Merchantville which looks like it's out of a magazine."

Quigley was running out of money. If his dream to walk again had any hope, he needed to continue therapy. Quigley went on Medicaid, but it limited his rehab visits.

He decided to raise money through an Internet site, www.GoFundMe.com. He wrote his story, created a page, and asked Kane to post it on his Facebook wall. Kane did. But it got little traction.

'Make them care'

Kane is in wine sales, but minored in TV and film in college. "If you're going to ask people for money," he told Quigley, "you've got to give them something. You've got to make them feel. Make them care."

Kane took video of Quigley working hard at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, including standing up, an epic achievement. Kane was going to narrate the video, then decided, an act of genius, to use his daughter MacKenzie, 7, and wrote a script.

Imagine a 7-year-old's voice-over as Quigley does his own version of a Rocky-like montage:

My father told me a story last night. It was about a man from Philadelphia. His name is Mr. Quigley. They found him under a train. He had been beaten, and his neck was broken. But this isn't a sad story, my father said. We don't believe in that around here. He said it was a story about hope and faith, friendship and love. He said it was really a story about a better tomorrow.

Kane showed Quigley the video on Christmas Eve.

Quigley was speechless. From tragedy come many blessings.

So far, 1,458 people in 37 countries have seen the video. The experience has been a marvelous lesson for MacKenzie, learning about the world, about kindness, about action.

She was in Florida over the holidays and said to her grandmother, "Grandma, somebody in Estonia watched our video today and heard my voice!"

Quigley has raised more than $27,000 on his GoFundMe site, with a goal of $40,000.

The phenomenon of raising money online is known as crowdfunding. The GoFundMe website claims to have helped thousands of people raise millions of dollars. People moved by a story can make a secure donation online. GoFundMe says it takes a 5 percent fee and 2.9 percent for processing.

Vague memories

Like many trauma victims, Quigley says he has no memory of what happened.

This much he knows: He left a bar at Second and Chestnut in Philadelphia about 12:30 a.m. Dec. 17, 2011. He says friends saw him get into a taxi. He was heading to a party in New Jersey. He never got there.

According to a police report, cameras at the PATCO train station at Eighth and Market show him on the platform at 4:45 a.m., "unsteady on his feet, stumbling, and gave the appearance of possibly being intoxicated." Four minutes later, "the subject fell forward into Track #2." Minutes after that, the conductor of a westbound train reported that he "believed his train had struck something."

Quigley woke up in intensive care with a spinal injury. He has vague memories - dreams? - of lying beaten in an alley at 3 a.m.

He believes he must have haggled with a cabdriver over a fare and was kicked out after only a few blocks, never leaving the city. "I've been kicked out of taxis all over the world," he said.   He believes he was attacked from behind, possibly by the cabdriver, and after lying in an alley, adrenaline must have carried him to the PATCO station, where he collapsed.

This is all speculation.

He likely will never know the truth now, nor does he care. Since his injury, and many dark days early on, he only looks forward. He reads endlessly, books like Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? and The Biology of Belief, and sees himself as on a spiritual and physical journey, climbing his own Everest and focused on the peak.

Jeffrey A. Rihn, his surgeon with the Rothman Institute at Jefferson University Hospital, said Quigley "appeared to have taken a direct blow to the back of his neck." The lamina of his C7 vertebra at the top of his spine broke and hit his spinal cord. Rihn said he thought it unlikely that Quigley could have walked after such a blow and added, "He could have landed on the track. That could have been the blunt force that caused it."

However it happened, Rihn said, at the time of surgery he was sure Quigley would never walk again. But at his last appointment a few weeks ago, Rihn told Quigley: "I expect you to walk in the next time I see you."

Rihn adds, "I don't know if it will be next time, but knowing how driven he is, it wouldn't surprise me.

"One thing that struck me about him from day one was his motivation," the surgeon said. "It's very unusual to have the recovery he's had, even to this point."

Adds Liz Watson, a physical therapist at Magee:

"He's probably one of the hardest workers that I know, and sometimes, it's actually difficult to work with him because there are times you need to give your body a break."

Brett Kane has seen Quigley's progress, small but steady. "I do believe he's going to walk again," Kane says. "He never quits, which I admire." Kane adds: "I can't imagine what it's taken him to come this far. Steve's journey proves that no matter how determined and focused we are, you can't go through life without a little help from your friends . . . and a few strangers."  

Quigley, who is thankful to many friends and family, can now get himself up and stand for 10 seconds.

"As 2014 starts, I am revved up and ready to walk," Quigley says. "Funny, most people fear a four-point walker, whereas I dream of one."

How and Why

Steve's GoFundMe page: http://www.gofundme.com/HelpStevenWalkAgain

Brett and MacKenzie's video: http://vimeo.com/m/82652207




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