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Kirk Meinelschmidt wasn't disabled

he just couldn't walk

November 25, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Kirk Thomas Meinelschmidt, who died Nov. 12 at the age of 33. His obituary was published in the Nov. 14 edition of The Herald-Mail.

A big professional wrestling fan, Kirk Meinelschmidt was particularly fond of Mick Foley and happily had been able to connect with the World Wrestling Entertainment star by telephone this fall.

"They talked a lot, and Mick sent wristbands and T-shirts to Kirk," said Kirk's sister, Wendy Meinelschmidt Chapin.

In fact, the newest T-shirt arrived Nov. 12 - the day Kirk died at the age of 33. He was buried in that shirt.

The second of Ray and Karen Meinelschmidt's four children, Kirk was a normal little boy following his birth in May 1974.

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That changed one November night in 1979, when 5-year-old Kirk awoke with a fever.

"He was delirious," said Karen, who remembers putting her young son in a tepid bath to bring down the fever. "We took him to the hospital, and they said it was a cold and sent him home."

At 9:30 the next morning, Kirk's temperature spiked at 107 degrees and he again was taken to the hospital. Five hours later, he was airlifted to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

The damage had been done, Karen said, and her son would never walk again.

"He came home for Christmas that year, but had to go back the next day," Karen said. Kirk would remain at Hopkins until the following May.

Once he was home to stay, it was a big transition for the whole family. Older brother Erik and younger sister Wendy spent a lot of time with Kirk. The youngest, Cort, was only 9 months old when Kirk lost his mobility.

"I remember Cort learned to walk holding on to the back of Kirk's wheelchair," Wendy said. That was an especially emotional memory for her since she and her husband, Ryan Chapin, now are parents of a daughter, Rizzo, who was born July 26.

Despite his inability to walk, Kirk wanted to do as many things as he could.

"He was determined," Karen said.

When it was time for Kirk to begin his formal education, the family decided he would go to "regular" school, which in his case was Sharpsburg Elementary School.

Since there were no other children with handicaps there, arrangements had to be made for a ramp so Kirk could get on and off the bus.

"The janitorial staff built a ramp since there were no handicapped school buses then," Karen said. Those same people modified a bathroom stall so Kirk could use it, and even built a wheelchair swing on the playground.

"Kirk kind of broke the ice for mainstreaming in the schools," Karen said.

Kirk liked school and being around other children. From Sharpsburg Elementary, he went on to Boonsboro middle and high schools.

When Kirk was preparing to graduate with his class in 1993, there was a question about whether there should be a ramp to the stage.

Initially, there was to be no ramp. But Ray said that was unacceptable. and he saw to it that there wasn't just one ramp, but two - one for Kirk to go up and another to come down.

Though he didn't have a lot of friends, Kirk was close to two brothers, Pat and Tim Myers, who visited often. A basement apartment was equipped for Kirk's needs, and included a television, PlayStation and all of the other bells and whistles of electronics.

"It was humbling being Kirk's dad," Ray said by telephone from his office. "He had such courage ... he was stronger than I'll ever be."

His mother and father agreed that they never thought of Kirk as being disabled - he was just not able to walk.

Wendy recalls that Kirk fought to be included in real physical education classes instead of just sitting on the sidelines tying and untying his shoes.

"We all treated him the same - the other kids picked on him and he picked back," Ray said.

Wendy concurred, emphasizing that she and her other two brothers all have permanent scars on their shins - from Kirk's wheelchair.

"It was very hard, but there were great joys," Karen said of the last 28 years.

Uncle Kirk was godfather to Emily, 1-year-old daughter of Cort and his wife, Gretchen, and delighted in visits with her.

He was only able to hold his niece, Rizzo, once before returning to Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center, where he died.

Unlike her Uncle Cort, Rizzo will have to find some other way to learn how to walk when she's ready.

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