Josh Keller was only 23 years old when he was injured in the line of duty during a negligent weapon discharge from another soldier. The Army veteran lost function of his arms and legs and lost feeling from the chest down; the accident rendering him a C-4 quadriplegic.
Josh spent more than a year in the hospital recovering, at times breathing through a ventilator. His longtime girlfriend, Kassidy, stayed by his side, learning how to care for Josh. Throughout his recovery, the couple have grown together, getting married in 2022.
Kassidy is Josh’s full-time caregiver and they have especially grown through the support of the Travis Mills Foundation.
The couple’s inaugural visit to the Retreat was in 2018, the first summer after Josh left the hospital.
“It was incredible,” Josh said, adding that it was the first time he had the opportunity to see what activities were still possible for him after injury. Kassidy had learned about the Retreat through a caregiver’s chat/support site.
The couple live in New Hampshire and were grateful the Retreat was only a three-hour drive from their home, as they were and still are hesitant to attempt air travel because of accessibility issues.
“It was great to see that Chris (Roseberry, facilities director and recalibrated veteran) was an amputee and James (Prindle, Warrior PATHH director) just picked me up out of my wheelchair and put me in a track chair,” Josh said.
“It was nice to realize there were more things I could do, than I couldn’t do,” he added.
Kassidy loves coming to the Retreat as much as Josh.
“We’ve gained a sense of community since coming here,” she said. “(Staff) came to our wedding – they’re like family.”
Kassidy was at first intimidated at the idea of a vacation.
“I was afraid it’d be more stressful than relaxing,” she said. “What if something goes wrong? What will be my backup plan? Here, I don’t worry about that. Everyone is helpful and I’m comfortable approaching anyone if I need help.”
“And the cooking is unreal!” Josh added enthusiastically.
Josh was able to participate in the arts during his first trip to the Foundation, one of his passions from before he was injured.
The Recalibrate Program
What was to be their next visit to the Retreat was put on hold due to COVID, but what came out of the situation was a gift. Josh had an interest in art, even before his injury, so the Foundation sent him an iPad and adapted pen so he could practice art and graphic design. What turned into a passion for Josh, also became the Foundation’s newest offering – the Recalibrate Program.
“I use it every day,” Josh said, adding that drawing is very therapeutic. “It helps with the pain, not focusing on what’s going on with my body.”
Josh established a blog, Life Keeps Rolling and an Instagram page. Josh even helped design graphics the Travis Mills Foundation 2022 Annual Appeal. This winter he will start school at Southern New Hampshire University, studying graphic and web design.
He also mentors other quadriplegics through the Boston Chapter of the United Spinal Association. Kassidy is a mentor to caregivers as well.
The couple felt that the first year or two after Josh’s injury presented the most challenges.
“That transition period was hard,” Kassidy said. “We did long distance at first because of Josh’s military career; we were two months away from having a normal relationship when he was injured – that was sort of snatched from us.”
Both say there is a balance of boundaries to figure out when your spouse is your caregiver. When they finally moved into their home three years after Josh’s injury, they felt they had their own identity as a couple, finally.
“I have an office where I draw or work on my blog” Josh said, adding that during that time, Kassidy is happy to run errands outside of the house.
“Obviously losing my independence and having to ask for help was a big hurdle,” Josh said. “I would try to go without instead of asking for help – that was me being stubborn. Learning to adjust to that is huge. We have a really good relationship and we love being together.”
Kassidy prefers to be Josh’s full-time caregiver as opposed to hiring people to come in and assist Josh.
“It gives us more freedom to live our own lives,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about someone coming into the house in the middle of the night or the mornings.”
Josh had planned to propose to Kassidy the same year he was shot. He even flew her out to Washington where he was stationed so they could look at rings and so he could get her ring size.
Plans, unfortunately changed, but a few years later, Josh proposed. The couple married in 2021 at the church in New Hampshire where they first met at 13 and 12 years old; the couple made a grand entrance at the reception with Kassidy riding in with Josh on the back of his chair.
Josh, now 28, and Kassidy, 26, celebrated their honeymoon at the Retreat in summer 2022.
“It’s cool to think about when we first came here, and how much further we’ve come,” Kassidy said. “It was so early in our journey. Now we’re here two years later and we’ve grown so much. God willing we’ll bring our children here someday.”