Kenneth “Kenny” Hunt recently turned 74.
I wasn’t there for the celebration, but I imagine Kenny’s cousin Roy was there across the table from him with just six years and two plates of steaks separating them. The two are consistently seen going out to lunch or about town. Steak is Kenny’s favorite, and they go out often, mostly just talking about family or a recent football or baseball game. “We laugh a lot,” Roy said. “He’s unquestionably the nicest human being I know. Literally. He and I have a relationship that is probably more like brothers than cousins.”
Kenny, Roy said, was badly injured in Vietnam on July 8, 1968.
“Kenny had just gotten out of college, got married, got drafted – boom. And he’s been in a wheelchair ever since,” Roy said. “When I saw him in San Antonio in 1968, you could look in his eyes and there was nothing there. I really didn’t think he could make it.”
Kenny lives at a VA hospital in Missouri. This kind of long-term care used to be the norm years ago before they stopped accepting lifetime residents. Living at the hospital in his own small apartment saved Kenny’s life.
“About two years ago, in the winter sometime, his mother called … [Kenny] had pneumonia. And normally for someone like him, that would be a killer. By the time we got there, they had moved him one floor up … [and] were already working on him so I’m convinced in my mind if he had been living in a private nursing home, by the time they figured out he was sick it could have been too late.”
Kenny and Roy hadn’t always been close, though. Kenny and his parents lived in East Texas for years after the war. It was only nine years ago that Kenny and his mother moved to Missouri to be closer to the rest of the family.
“We had not been close other than seeing each other at family events,” Roy said. “When he moved here, I bought a used Dodge van with a manual system to get him in and out of, and it was a little bit more than I could handle.”
Roy is 80 years old and knew that when it came time to get the next vehicle, he’d need an automatic system. They chose a competitors vehicle. However, Roy learned there was a number of times when the vehicle wouldn’t work at all.
Roy had applied for an accessible vehicle grant through the VA for Kenny. About two-thirds of the cost was covered by the VA, significantly reducing the amount Kenny needed to pay out of pocket. Every two years, Kenny was eligible for a new accessible vehicle.
When the two years with that van were up, Roy visited the local dealer, United Access, who told him a BraunAbility Honda Odyssey would serve him and Kenny well. The trade-in value of his old van completely covered the cost of the new BraunAbility Honda.
“The way the car is set up, there’s a – I’ll call it a peg – where the passenger seat would go in the front and I can roll him up the ramp in a standard wheelchair, you can do it in an electric one too,” Roy explained. “And then you slide him into that peg and it locks him to the floor, put a seatbelt on him, and then we go wherever we want to go. So, you know, the car was made specifically for him.”
“The car was made specifically for him.”
Everything is automatic, per Roy’s needs. “With a different kind of system, I don’t think I could physically handle it anymore. It’s a lifesaver for me.”
Roy now acts as Kenny’s driver in addition to being his family member and his friend. The car lives in Roy’s garage and the pair will go out several times a week wherever Kenny wants to go.
“This taking care of Kenny might keep me going for years to come, I hope,” Roy said.