Kenneth L. Scott, Sgt. USMC Retired, is also a 100% Disabled War Veteran who fought in the Gulf War during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, was stationed in the Philippines during the 1989 Philippine coup, and has completed intense training and missions all over the world. As a result, he has already grappled with a variety of challenges and medical issues, including neurological damage, exposure to NBC (Nuclear Biological and Chemical) warfare and blunt force trauma that resulted in total blindness in his right eye. No stranger to adversity, Scott casually dismisses those trials as “a lot of mini-surgeries—just way too many things to count”—and is enthusiastic about telling a tale of triumph, instead.
“After many surgeries,” he relates, “and finally getting it all together around 2002, following my 1994 retirement, I finally became what I’d consider productive.”
By then, Scott had graduated from college with a BS in Mathematics and minor in Physics and had found his “second calling”—teaching students at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, New Jersey.
An active individual who has little use for idleness or wasted time, Scott was also managing two local stores—the Cape May Olive Oil Company and the Spice Cellar—part time during the school year, and full time during his summer break from teaching.
He is still devoutly thankful that his wife, Rowena, happened to be with him on May 18, 2019, when he was taking the stores’ receipts to the bank and experienced an acute ischemic attack or stroke while driving.
“I felt really funny—a tingling numbness in my face, and I felt really anxious, so I pulled over and said, ‘Dear, you’re going to have to drive.’”
He remembers shuffling around the car, struggling into the passenger seat and realizing that he needed to get to a hospital, but couldn’t say the words. Beyond that, he remembers nothing of the event, or the day it happened. His wife immediately recognized the emergency, and rushed him to the Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May within 10 minutes, where Scott, by then non-responsive, was assessed and given the clot-dissolving medicine tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) that helps to restore blood flow to portions of the brain affected by the stroke, and thus limit the risk of damage and functional impairment.
In less than an hour, he was aboard a life flight to Cooper University Hospital in Camden, where for a week they monitored his recovery, as little by little, his left side began regaining sensation and responding—but the right side did not. “The right side of my face was drooped, I was unable to talk; and because my tongue wasn’t working, I couldn’t swallow,” he was told. “And I still don’t feel sensation on the right side. My ability to articulate has gotten much better through therapy, but I’ve had to learn how to talk with basically half my tongue.”
When the Going Gets Tough
As one who has been right-handed all his life, the 51-year-old had to relearn to perform hundreds of familiar everyday tasks using his left side.Faced with such difficulties, Scott’s attitude remained true to his character: determined, rather than discouraged.Transferred from the hospital to the North Cape Center, a long-term rehabilitation facility, Scott experienced a week of adjustment regarding which his memories are unclear. “When I realized where I was and what had happened, and the big challenge that lay ahead, it was a real shock. But every day I made progress,” he said. “Initially I couldn’t even sit up in the bed; then I was finally able to sit up—and from the bed, I was able to transfer to a wheelchair, just using my left leg and left hand. I had no right hand movement and no right leg, but the left came back strong—with a vengeance!” A committed U.S. Marine, Scott recognized the situation for what it was: “It was a pretty big battle, learning how to talk, how to eat, filling in some of the gaps that had occurred because of the stroke—I didn’t realize how much you take these things for granted.” They told Scott he would be at the Center for a minimum of six months; Scott disagreed. “Once I was aware, after that first week, I said, ‘I’m going to give it three weeks—and then I’m outa here!’”
His therapists laughed, but admired his will to get a tough job done quickly; and when there were openings, they offered him extra sessions in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.“Any time there was a gap, I was in there working; I would sometimes do two double sessions,” Scott said. He remained at the Center, wheelchair-bound, for a little over two weeks before Lawall’s Mathews Mancha CP, LPO, fitted him with a KAFO (knee-ankle-foot-orthosis) that supported his impaired right leg beautifully.“I told him that if he brought me an ugly brace, I was going to hit him in the head with it,” Scott joked, “so the one he made for me really was definitely different, but it fit my personality —with a psychedelic design. I had never seen a KAFO before, didn’t even know what it was, but I threw it on and stood up and stumbled around, trying to walk with it.”Within a day or two, however, he was stepping out smartly. He had progressed so well that he was able to check out of the rehab facility on the exact June 12 date he had initially set his sights on, and then launched immediately into a three-week trip to California equipped with a wheelchair and the KAFO he’d worn for only three days.“We pulled it off by learning on the fly; with the help of my strong, vibrant wife, we figured it out together!” With gratitude, he identifies Rowena, his wife of 29 years, as the strong one in their partnership, and quotes the U.S. Marine Corps maxim: “What’s tougher than a Marine? A Marine’s wife!”
Testing the Limits
For several months Scott experimented and grew adept with his ‘psychedelic’ KAFO; but he also pursued research on his own and discovered the C-Brace from Ottobock, described as “the world’s first mechatronic stance and swing phase control orthosis (SSCO®) system, which controls both the stance and swing phase hydraulically with microprocessor sensor technology.”
Where conventional paralysis orthoses are limited to releasing and locking the knee joint, the C-Brace supports the wearer during all phases of the gait cycle, guided by the microprocessor’s ability to identify and adapt to everyday situations in real-time. Lawall’s Juan Cave, MSOP, CPO, recognized Scott as an ideal candidate who could benefit from the C-Brace:
“Ken is a very active athletic guy,” Cave observed. “Before his stroke, he had been in the military, and he was doing CrossFit training and following a serious fitness regimen. The KAFO he was wearing had gotten him on his feet and able to walk, but it was limiting his ability to reach his full potential. I had gone to a class in Texas last year to become a specialist in the C-Brace, and I thought he’d be a great candidate because he was still young and able to move some parts of his body in order to propel himself forward to walk.”
“After experiencing the test, he was all in!” Cave recalls. “He was enthusiastic, confident, and committed. We just had to convince the VA (Veterans Administration) that he was an appropriate candidate in order to justify their funding the device—and he’s a very convincing person!”
Scott started the funding approval process through TriCare and again through the VA in September. Ultimately, his appeal to his Congressman, New Jersey U. S. Representative Jeff Van Drew, for assistance with his issues as a Veteran, helped expedite the VA approval. The C-Brace Scott was fitted with in May 2020 has been everything Cave anticipated, and after his first month using it, Scott is delighted.
“The microprocessor is very compact and streamlined, about 2” thick, and is attached to the side of his KAFO a few inches above his knee;” Cave points out. “The hydraulics control the amount of resistance in the device, to give him the support he needs. Within a week of receiving the brace, he was able to walk more than he’d ever walked with the original KAFO. As an athlete, he’s competitive, always trying to improve his mile time for walking. Once he put the brace on, he was able to drop five minutes off his time almost instantly; it was amazing.” Since every C-Brace is custom made and designed for a patient’s specific anatomy and indication, adjustments are required to ensure an ideal fit.
“Ken is so active; the first day that he put it on he was trying to go up and down stairs, trying to squat, moving around—it was just a lot for the device; we had to fine-tune it a little to suit his needs and give him the best experience with it,” Cave explains.
While the C-Brace was being re-adjusted, Scott reverted to the KAFO and was sharply aware of the differences. “With the C-Brace my center of gravity is in the middle. I’m more stable, and not leaning to the left anymore, so I’ve taken the strain off my back and my posture is better. The amount of energy it takes to get the leg to move and accept my gait, has got to be at least 90% less than the KAFO—it’s like night and day! “Since then,” Scott says happily, “I’ve been rockin’ and rollin’!”
A month after receiving the C-Brace, he had already clocked 178 miles on its monitor. The C-Brace has made a big difference in his confidence and his carriage: “With the KAFO I would have to go up the stairs one step at a time, with one stiff leg. I couldn’t walk up or down the stairs in an upright position. With the C-Brace I can hold onto the railing and walk up and down the stairs like a normal person. Instead of managing 800 meters with the KAFO, I can walk two or three miles with the C-Brace without a problem.”
C-Brace Meets CrossFit
The C-Brace’s advantages are also dramatically obvious when Scott focuses on his fitness regimen. Ken and Rowena Scott are both avid CrossFitters who began the discipline eight years ago, and work with Jim Walls and Mike Wilson at the Cape May Fitness Center in North Cape May. Although he admits that it’s sometimes frustrating to have to relearn the skills and rebuild the strengths with his current limitations, he’s already finding creative ways to cope and adjust: He has had to modify some of the movements, and he also designed his own hand brace that allows him to hold a bar bell with his “vacation arm”, although the left (his functional) arm handles all the heavy lifting.
“Being able to do that movement is a huge deal! I got yelled at by my PT (physical therapist) a couple of times because those lifts are quite risky, since I don’t really feel my right arm, and sometimes don’t know where it is. So I’m taking it really slow, to avoid serious injury.” His self-designed hand brace also links his left hand around his right and allows him to complete a one-armed pull-up with two hands on the bar. “I can do pull-ups now,” he laughs. “They just look different!”
The C-Brace also enables him to squat and bend over to pick up things (like weights), using hydraulics that lower him and also assist in pushing him up again—something the KAFO couldn’t do.
With only a month’s worth of experience wearing the orthosis, and limited access to a gym because of pandemic restrictions, Scott admits he’s still finding out what the C-Brace can do, as he explores the full range of CrossFit activities, including Olympic lifting, cardio, high-intensity workouts and more.
“I’m still learning how my body is reacting to a push, a pull, and trying to fire those quick twitches, but I’ve been able to do almost all of the movements without assistance, and they’re becoming more natural,” he explains. Cave credits Rowena Scott as “the best support system Ken could have. She takes care of him and helps him out but doesn’t baby him, encouraging and participating in CrossFit alongside him.” Scott agrees that while many valued individuals are on his support team—including his daughter Nikkole, sons Andrew, McKenzey and Weston, and his siblings—“the greatest support I receive is from my wife, who is my right hand. She even stepped into my part-time job when I was unable to continue. My children and my wife are my driving force, urging me to ‘get on with it!’
What Lies Ahead?
A great believer in setting goals—and striving to achieve them—Scott shares a six-month agenda that includes two CrossFit goals:
CrossFit is known for its super-intense workouts of the day (WODs), but special “Hero WODs” go above and beyond the sport’s usual intensity. They typically honor a fallen member of the military, making them more meaningful than the average workout. One of the toughest and most demanding is the CrossFit “Murph” workout, named for Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy. It consists of a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and another one-mile run, all done consecutively within a one-hour time limit—while carrying a 20-pound pack. (A modified Murph may be completed without the 20-pound pack.)
Scott’s current goal list includes
• Walking 1,000,000 steps with the C-Brace (Only 800,000 to go as of this writing!)
• Completing six “Hero Workouts”
• Completing a modified “Murph”
• Becoming a certified Star C-Brace patient representative for Ottobock
• Working/Volunteering with the VA to assist in the transition of disabled Veterans into civilian life.
“I haven’t been able to go back to teaching because my physical—and more so my mental and cognitive piece—has not gotten stitched back to the level I would like to present,” he explains; but his physical, occupational, and speech therapy sessions continue on an outpatient basis as he pursues that higher standard. His faith in the future, however, remains intact—part of the faith that has strengthened and brought him to this point in his life.
The Power of Faith
When Scott made his bold vow to graduate from the rehab center in three weeks, he admits he didn’t know what he was signing up for. “I had no idea. And the hard work hasn’t stopped since, because every day is a new day, with new struggles.” But through this challenge– and all the multiple service-connected issues, events, and injuries throughout his Marine Corps duty—“I just kept bouncing back!” he reflects.
“I’ve definitely been gifted from God with the ability to adapt quickly, and it’s God’s grace that kept me in the Marine Corps. Without all of those things that happened, all of my experiences of growing up and overcoming and adapting, I wouldn’t be here. That’s also one of our Marine Corps mottoes: ‘Overcome, Adapt!’”
Scott describes the relationship with God that began when he was a child. “I was in and out of many foster homes, so I have been baptized in almost every major religion—in the Mormon church, the Catholic church, the Christian church, the Baptist church. Whatever home I was in, the foster parents would give me a little dip.”
His memories of those early days in the rehab center (and likely also his unremembered days in the hospital) include thousands of repetitions of Hail Marys and lots of prayer.
“Every burden, every challenge has just brought me closer to God. Without his presence and my belief, I wouldn’t be here today. He put me on this path, and put all these people in my life—including Juan (Cave), my therapists, doctors, and so many others—to assist me through what I needed to experience.”
“I want to thank the VA for coming through—that’s been a blessing!” Scott concludes. “And in the future, as I continue to learn more and jump on board, I’ll hopefully be a part of Ottobock and C-Brace, and work with them to get other vets fitted as I was; because it’s life-changing to not be wheelchair bound. To be able to stand upright and to walk like a normal person is absolutely huge! It’s life-changing!”