By Diane Freeby
SOUTH BEND — Faith in God, with a devotion to the Blessed Mother, a desire to help others and a sense of humor are helping two young men as they face the biggest challenges of their lives.
Adam Keszei and Chris Freeby, 2013 graduates from rival Catholic high schools, recently became friends under the most unlikely of circumstances. Recovering from major surgery this winter at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, they met during a group workout session on the seventh floor of a hospital 90 miles from their hometown of South Bend.
Diagnosed as a toddler with cerebral palsy, Chris lived with pain from twisted leg bones his entire life. He dealt with increased pain while overcoming the challenges of academic rigor at Saint Joseph High School in South Bend before finding a surgeon who could correct the problem in his leg. Now Chris is hoping to walk tall, straight and pain-free.
Adam, a college student pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot, saw his life change in an instant after he was pried out of a wrecked car Christmas night. Now paralyzed from the waist down, Adam hopes to find a new normal and do a lot of the things he did before the accident.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” the Marian graduate admits. “I’m going to have to do things in a new and different way, but that’s OK.”
Adam was in the back seat of a car, parked on a dirt road, looking at the stars and hanging out with friends on Dec. 25, 2014. The last thing he remembers is someone saying, “We’re gonna get hit!” When Adam regained consciousness, his knees were in his face and he couldn’t feel his legs. Adam says he never panicked and had an unexpected feeling of peace even as rescue workers used the Jaws of Life to pull him from the car. Airlifted to a nearby hospital where he had emergency back surgery the next day, doctors said he had a 1 percent chance of ever walking again.
“As a Catholic, I know that whatever happens, a lot of good can come out of it even though it’s a bad thing,” recalls the 20-year-old, who says that feeling of peace never left him. “At the same time, friends of my parents and other people were seeing my story and becoming inspired. Apparently that was helping a lot of people and I was very happy with that. It really helped me get through the whole thing.”
Meanwhile, Chris was struggling with the pain of having bones broken and rearranged during surgery, fastened together with metal plates and screws. Tendons were cut and stretched and he was fitted for leg braces. Despite his good prognosis, the immediate pain was overwhelming, until he met Adam.
“I really learned a lot from Adam,” explains Chris. “It’s interesting, he should be learning more from me because I’ve always had a disability! I’ve learned to have more faith, to believe things will get better. You have to take every day as it’s given. I trust because as Catholics we are called to believe in God and to have faith in others.”
These Marian and Saint Joseph High School grads leaned on each other.
“When I was able to help Chris,” says Adam, “that really helped me. It gave me happiness. At the same time Chris helped me, too, directly, by his prayers and his love and support for me.”
Chris is looking forward to getting back to his job as a food server at Holy Cross College, and his volunteer work at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center. Being there for Adam helps him realize that even if he’s not at full-speed physically, he can still serve others.
Adam and Chris joke a lot, and as hospital roommates shared some conversations they couldn’t have with most people. A small statue of Mary and a few rosaries scattered about the otherwise clinical hospital room revealed a shared devotion to Our Lady.
“I try to pray the rosary every day,” says Adam, who admits he returned to his faith after straying a bit during his first year of college.
Chris says he’s been blessed by pilgrimages made to Marian shrines where he felt more open to going to daily Mass and praying more.
“That’s the way Adam is,” adds Chris. “He’s the kind of person who’s open to those things. And he’s opening up himself to help me become a better person.”
Just before his accident, Adam delved into Marian consecration, completing the 33 Days to Morning Glory devotion, as well as the longer version by St. Louis de Montfort.
“I believe in the special graces … I’ve seen them in action and they’ve really helped me. They’ve actually strengthened my faith, too, because I’ve seen things that seem impossible actually happen.”
Like the progress he’s made since December. Brought to RIC flat on his back, Adam is now able to do wheelies in his souped-up chair and use adaptive gear to stand upright and get in and out of the family car.
“I know a lot of people are praying for me,” explains Adam when he’s asked how he remains so upbeat. “Honestly, it makes me feel happier than I felt before the accident.”
Finally returning home to South Bend in early March, Adam is eager to continue moving forward. Still interested in aviation, Adam isn’t ruling out someday becoming a pilot.
“If that’s not what I’m supposed to do, then I’ll find out,” says Adam. “If it’s God’s will, then the doors will keep opening and if not, they’ll close.”
Faith and humor sustain their friendship, as Chris maintains he and Adam are “like brothers from another mother!”
Recalling what he’s learned from his new friend, Chris says he tries to look at the big picture.
“Every day is a new day and you just have to trust it will get better.”
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