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The Long Road Home
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Krempels' recovery wasn't helped by the financial problems that beset him almost immediately after his discharge from rehab. When he lost the ability to work, he lost his independence. "I was totally dependent on food stamps, fuel assistance, loans from friends," he recalls.

His application for Social Security disability payments was approved after a long string of hearings and appeals, and then it took nine months for the first check to arrive. "On my most desperate weekend, I kept opening the cupboard where I kept the staples of my diet: bread, cereal, crackers. Empty. No food, no money, no idea what to do. The only time in my life I have known the terror of hunger."

Steppingstones meeting

Two years after the accident, Krempels' civil suit against the trucking companies and turnpike authority came to trial. A jury awarded him a lot of money and a chance to build a new life. He resolved to make the most of it.

Krempels grew up as the son of a minister, in whose footsteps he was expected to follow. "I found his doctrine too hard," he says. "But I did get the part about caring for people. I have a really soft heart, and I always wanted to alleviate suffering."

With his money problems behind him and his future still uncertain, Krempels decided to dedicate his new life to helping others who were going through what he had gone through and whose cupboards now were bare.

In 1995, he called together a cadre of friends who had helped him through his two-year ordeal, and he told them he wanted to use some of the money from his lawsuit to create a charitable fund to help people who had suffered head injuries.

"That's David," says Effie Malley '78, a close friend and a consultant to Krempels' 2001 Brain Injury Support Fund. "That's the way he thinks. Right away he was saying, 'There must be a lot of people like me.' David wanted to keep people from suffering through the poverty and loneliness he had experienced."

In addition to Malley, the friends who were called upon to help establish the fund and to serve on its board of advisors included social worker Lisa Hansen '84, who was Krempels' case manager at Dover Rehab; Jim Fisher '89, also a social worker and an old softball buddy who visited Krempels nearly every day during his recovery; and Portsmouth lawyer John Ahlgren, who argued Krempels' case in civil court.

"We used to meet for coffee at Ceres Street Bakery to read applications for grants, all of us caught up in David's mission to help people who are in really dire straits," Malley recalls. And the 2001 Fund has helped people--more than 220 of them--giving away $600,000 since its inception. But after a few years, Krempels and his friends decided that they needed to do more. "There was a need for people to connect with other people," Krempels explains. "Somehow we needed to go beyond helping people to pay their bills and to satisfy the need for human interaction."

In a sudden turn of events unimaginable to most of us, many head-injured people lose jobs, hobbies and the simple, everyday abilities that most humans take for granted. Soon they may, and often do, lose homes, marriages and friends.

"This is a very misunderstood disability," Krempels observes, running a hand over his close-cropped sandy hair. A lean man with a ready, engaging smile, he explains that people with head injuries are often perceived as "stupid, retarded or drunk. They are none of these things, and the people they were--the minds they possessed--are still in their bodies. But their ability to express themselves is very damaged in some cases. So they are misunderstood out in the rest of the world."


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