SCHS choir director’s life takes a new turn

Benefit to help with Kent’s medical bills
By: 

Carol Wagner Leader Correspondent


Photo by Carol Wagner A benefit is planned for Jonathon Kent, seated left, on Nov. 25 at Golden Sands in Cecil. His wife, Kay, sits next to him and standing, from left, are Randy Wright, Mary Wright, Stacy Kent and Chris Kent.

Jonathon Kent didn’t think his life would go the way it has the past year.

Almost exactly one year ago, the Shawano Community High School choir director became paralyzed from the waist down.

“We had just driven to Milwaukee and back,” he recalled.

It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving when he started shaking violently and went to the emergency room. They did tests on Kent, 61, and Sunday he went back home, but returned to the ER on Monday when his legs began to go numb. The tests showed a staph infection and, the next day, he underwent surgery.

In 1992, he’d had a similar bout but was OK after six weeks of IV therapy. This time, it hit the exact same spot.

“I was in tremendous amounts of pain,” Kent said.

After surgery, he spent 50 days in acute rehab as an inpatient. For two weeks, Kent was at Rennes Health and Rehab Center in De Pere. From there, he went to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, where they do rehabilitation for spine and brain injuries.

“Instead of being the only one in a wheelchair, everyone is in a wheelchair,” he said.

Kent and his wife, Kay, who has been constantly by his side, spent 28 days there.

“We learned so much,” Kay Kent said.

One of those things was that handicapped accessible doesn’t necessarily mean wheelchair accessible. Also, flying is something that can be a challenge.

“We learned how to navigate flying,” Kay Kent said.

Jonathon Kent came home to De Pere in March, a stable paraplegic.

“We have a routine that keeps me pretty functional,” he said. “Seems like a weird deck of cards I’ve been dealt. I thought I had it figured out.”

While coping well, Kent’s attitude took a new turn when a close friend died suddenly of a heart attack. He realized that he still had his life, if not his legs.

“That changed the way I feel about this,” Kent said.

He is grateful for still being able to be with his four children and three grandchildren.

Kent met Randy and Mary Wright through his sister-in-law Stacy Kent, who is married to Jonathon’s brother Chris. The former Shawano County sheriff, now retired, has a similar story.

On May 16, 2016, Randy Wright felt weak and, the next day, said he felt like he had been Tasered. At the hospital, it was determined that he had four abscesses and became paralyzed from the neck down for 48 hours.

“I prayed a lot to the big guy upstairs,” Wright said, thinking of his wife, their four children and eight grandchildren.

Wright had an operation on his neck and, eventually, the “Taser” feelings returned, which meant he was getting feeling back in his body. He had to learn to walk and stand again through rehab at Aurora and Woodside Nursing Home. It took a long time, but Wright steadily improved until this summer when he began staggering and his body shook with spasms. In September, he had surgery on his lower back and is getting better.

“I have to concentrate really hard on walking,” Wright said.

Kent and Wright have become good friends.

“There’s a bond there,” Wright said. “Each one knows what you’ve been through. I hope and pray every day that Jonathon gets to walk again.”

Kent said the Wrights have been a source of information and support.

“Randy and Mary have been a blessing to both of us,” Kent said.

Both men acknowledged the wonderful support of their wives.

On May 10, Kent returned to work part time, saying the students have accepted him for 18 years and that didn’t change. It was just a new normal. He plans to retire at the end of the school year.

Helping him out at school is Chris Kent, his younger brother and the SCHS band director.

“I’ve seen him fight and stay positive and take life on the same way I’ve seen him take on anything in this life — head on,” Chris Kent said. “I admire his strength and positivity.”

The brothers have worked together on musicals and performances at the high school. The two collaborate on the annual Dinner Dance in November and the Last Dance in May.

“There’s no dividing us because he’s my big brother, and I’m not going to let him down,” Chris Kent said.

Many people stepped forward to help out in Jonathon Kent’s absence.

“Chris and Stacy have been a huge support system for me going back to work,” he said.

There are many things that insurance doesn’t cover, so Nov. 25 there will be a benefit at Golden Sands in Cecil.

“It’s a one-year anniversary,” Kay Kent said. “We need to be with people. Thanksgiving is a great time to be with family and friends.”

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: Benefit for Jonathon Kent

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 25

WHERE: Golden Sands Golf Course, Cecil

FYI: Food, fun, music, prizes, silent auction, light lunch by Sue Moede Catering.

TICKETS: $5. They may be purchased at the door or at Charlie’s County Market.