COMMUNITY STORIES | 2.10.18 | By Charlie and Kelly McKinley
When you meet Charlie “C-Mac” and his sister, Kelly, you immediately sense their friendliness, warmth, and positivity for everyone around them. It doesn’t take long before you also notice the loving bond that they share with one another. Following Charlie’s TBI nearly 7 years ago, he and Kelly have grown both as individuals and as siblings. Here, they have courageously offered to tell their story to share their perspectives, hope and positivity for others learning to accept and adapt to life’s unexpected changes.
Charlie was in a car accident on May 22, 2011, at age 21. He was driving alone in his car when he was struck on his driver’s side coming around a bend. Thankfully, two of his friends in a car behind him were able to reach him quickly. They were able to offer the critical assistance he needed to start breathing after being pinned in the car.
Kelly was in college at that time. Although she wasn’t far from home, she didn’t have access to her phone that night and only learned of the accident the following morning. Once her parents picked her up, she visited Charlie in the ICU of the local Level 1 Trauma Center. Kelly recalls being told that it would be scary to see her brother because of the multiple tubes he had in place and the significant cuts he had on his face. She remembers taking a sharp emotional inhale when she entered the room, then immediately being told to be quiet to keep stimulation low because of Charlie’s tenuous state.
Following ~1.5 months in the hospital, Charlie transferred to acute rehab, where he continued to emerge from his coma state and began his rehab journey. Nearly 7 years later, he continues to progress and positively influence the lives of everyone he meets. Along with their parents, older brother and his family, extended family and the unwavering friendship of Charlie’s close friend, Vinnie, Charlie and Kelly continue to learn, change and show the power of family and love, especially for those affected by TBI.
The following interview helps us get to know C-Mac and Kelly better, and gain insight and inspiration from their relationship and healing journey.
Tell us about yourself (Charlie) when you were younger.
C (Charlie): I’ve always been a positive person. I was more quiet.
K (Kelly): He was a good guy. He always fought for the underdog and always had others’ backs. He was stoic and private. He was funny, but sly, and not many got to see his playful side. It was rare to get a smile out of him.
What was your relationship like prior to Charlie’s injury?
C: Like a lot of brothers and sisters, I think. We didn’t really get along that well. I got along better with my older brother, David.
K: We didn’t have a close relationship. We had just started getting close and were starting to develop an adult relationship at the time of the accident. But I was in college, so we didn’t really talk that much.
What is your relationship like now?
C: It’s great. We are so friendly with one another. In a way it is due to the accident and in a way is due to us being adults and having a different relationship
K: Loving and goofy and honest. The last 7 years has brought us closer than I ever thought we could be!
What have you learned about acceptance?
C: I know things are different for me. I just accept the fact that I can’t do the things that I used to do and move on. It is the way I like to live my life. I am blessed. I am happy to be alive.
K: We always had hope that he would be ok, but knew it would be a long journey. We had to come to terms with him being different- accepting that life would be different than we thought it would. But, I’ve also realized the same is true for me and my brother, and everyone really. I had plans and life is different than I thought, not because of Charlie’s injury, just because things don’t always go the way you planned. Learning to accept Charlie’s situation has helped me accept unexpected things in my life.
You are both funny! How has humor helped you stay positive?
C: Humor helps me, it helps us. She’s hilarious. Everyone in my family is funny and outgoing.
K: Charlie’s style of humor has changed. He has picked up more of mine and our mom’s humor traits, probably because we all spent so much time together. We really play off each other and have fun.
What are some of Kelly’s special qualities?
C: She’s so friendly and energetic, sweet and warm.
K: I’m a very open minded and confident person. I make myself laugh constantly.
What are some of Charlie’s amazing qualities?
C: I’m always so happy and positive. It would take a lot to put me in the dumps. I’m very friendly and accepting of everyone.
K: He is funny and honest (as the day is long). He’s not afraid to talk to people and be friends with anyone, really fearless with interacting. He’s so bold, brave and strong. He doesn’t even realize how much he touches and impacts people.
How do you take care of yourself and love your brain?
C: I go to yoga at the YMCA. I feel great and I sleep wonderfully whenever I do yoga. I’m just at peace. It’s nice. I swim, cycle, and use the elliptical for cardio. I also meditate every night. I love it. I never used to meditate. I wasn’t a meditator. Now I meditate to fall asleep.
K: I’m eating healthy and discovered that I love to cook! My job is challenging, so that is exciting and helping me grow into adult life.
What advice do you have for others?
C: Be yourself, be positive and stay positive, that’s how I try to live my life.
K: This process has been a test of patience- take it one day and one step at a time. Sometimes you may take 1 step forward and 5 steps back, but you can’t discount any steps. Be in the moment and stay positive, even through the back steps. You can’t really know what is going to happen next, but you can change how you think about it.