By Dave Taylor Hancock Clarion
Every weekday, Blake Linn gets at least one visitor to his cottage at the Owensboro campus of Wendell Foster. Linn, 27, suffers from quadriplegic cerebral palsy as a result of birthing trauma, although his fraternal twin, Jonathan, was born healthy. But what once seemed unfair to Blake’s parents, Kim and Kevin Linn, has become a blessing; the thread that has strengthened their extended family and given them a greater purpose.
“When Blake was born, Blake became the priority for our family,” said Kim. The twins were the first children for the couple.
Whatever plans the couple, or the extended family had about the future, were changed.
Kim stopped working as a nurse. Kevin, a hulking bodybuilder who coached football and golfed, gave up sports.
Kim’s parents, Johnny and the late Barbara Bridges, jumped in to help, and Johnny felt an immediate connection to baby Blake as he struggled in the hospital.
“I can’t explain that relationship. It’s just something that happened from the day he was in the hospital at Kosair until now,” he said as he stood in Blake’s room Thursday.
“Seeing a little kid that’s having seizures and going through all that and you don’t know if they’re going to live or die, really brought us together as a family,” he said.
Johnny visits Blake on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while other members, including the twins’ younger sister, Blaire, visit other days.
“Someone from the family is with him for some time every day that he is here,” he said.
The couple moved Blake into Wendell Foster at age 21, at the urging of Barbara, who worried about his future, and Blaire, who had actually started working at the center, which offers programs, housing, and support for special needs, usually paid for through Medicaid or other payments.
At 21, things at home had gotten pretty boring for Blake anyway.
“Kevin and I were struggling,” Kim said. “The kids were gone, Jon was in college, Blaire was in college, and he was sitting here with us.”
Blake applied to be the roommate of a man he’d known since they were children, and was quickly accepted.
“The rest of the story is kind of a God thing.”
“Within a month of Blake going,” Kim said, “Mother was diagnosed with cancer. So I really felt like, now looking back, it was God’s protection for me to be able to help with my mother when she was sick,” she said.
Barbara eventually lost her battle to cancer, and Johnny turned even more of his attention to his grandson.
“He is the number one priority in my life at this time,” he said. “My wife is gone, he’s the number one priority.”
“I just felt like I could contribute more to making him happy than I could to Jon or Blaire,” he said. “Not that I don’t love them, but his happiness depends on care and attention and him knowing for sure that there’s somebody for him.”
Blake stays at Wendell Foster five days a week, coming home on the weekends, where Johnny and the rest of the family all sit together at Lewisport Baptist Church, saving room for Blake’s wheelchair at the end of the pew.
And Blake’s relationship with his granddad is evident in his room, where the walls are painted orange, for Johnny’s alma mater, Clemson.
“He picked it out,” said Kim. “We give him choices on what colors and all that stuff.”
Wendell Foster has been good not just for Blake, but for his parents too, who now have time to do things they haven’t done in years, like go on vacation or have dinner with friends.
“”If (people) have a child with special needs and they struggle and worry about the well being of their children after they’re gone, it’s a nice residential facility, they have all age groups that live there,” said Kim, adding that they also get them involved in the community and even take them on trips and concerts.
If anyone needs special care, regardless of their financial situation, Wendell Foster can help.
“I remember when I took Blake to Wendell Foster the first time, his head just moving around everywhere,” said Kim. “I think it was the first time he ever realized that there were other people in the world like him.”
While Blake struggles physically, everyone agrees that his mental well being is strong.
“There’s nothing wrong in here,” Johnny said, pointing to Blake’s head.
“I’ve had a physician walk in and say ‘does he know anything?’” said Kim. “And Blake’s just sitting there looking at him.”
It can be frustrating for the family and for Blake, not being able to communicate what he wants, the couple said, but technology has allowed him to communicate more with them, and with the outside world.
“He loves Facebook, him and his mother, on Facebook all the time,” said Kevin.
“He also likes listening to books,” he said, listing books like the Hunger Games series, but also surprising ones, like a recent one about the killing of Bin Laden written by a Navy Seal.
“He actually picked that out,” he said. “Listen, I loved listening to that with him.”
And he was listening to Tom Sawyer the other day.
“We were shocked. We didn’t realize that he’d like something like that,” he said.
He also likes messing with his dad by having a big UK banner on his Clemson orange walls.
“Kevin is a Louisville fan, of course and Blake even likes egging him on with the UK thing,” said Kim. “(He) will egg Kevin on making him watch UK and all that stuff, just to keep the tension there a little bit.”
And being a 27-year-old man, his motives for things might not always be what he says, like his choices for who he allows to cut his hair. Wendell Foster has a man who will do it, but Blake’s last two stylists have been females who were easier on the eyes.
“I think it has to do with pretty women,” Kevin said.
The couple said they wish that more people understood that people like Blake are fully aware of what’s going on, but that they’re just unable to communicate like others.
“People need to realize that people with special needs are like all the rest of us,” said Kim. “They have the same wants, the same needs, the same likes, dislikes, and they just want to be treated like a person.”
The couple acknowledge that raising a special needs son wasn’t always easy, but that Blake’s influence on the family is widespread, with Jon working in healthcare and Blaire becoming a special education teacher.
“It’s hard but it is something that I’ve come to know as I’ve grown that it only made my life better,” Kim said.
“What I first felt very angry about, now I realize that it’s been a blessing,” she said. “I hate it for Blake, but for the lives that he has changed, I’m thankful.”