ORANGE : Aid on Way for Crippled Family Man

Matthew Keane cried when his year-old daughter, Jacquelyn, finally kissed him on the cheek after being afraid to come near him for more than five months.

It was a momentous day for Keane that March 13. He had just turned 30 and was coming home after being hospitalized for a month. Jacquelyn, who had seen her father in a hospital bed with ugly contraptions fastened to his head, finally lost her fear of him.

The father of two girls tried to hold back tears this week as he recalled the accident that left him a quadriplegic in February.

Keane and his 3-year-old daughter, Chelsea, were riding a horse bareback at a friend's ranch in Lancaster when the horse began galloping down a hill. Keane was flung 30 feet through the air, landing head first on the ground. He suffered a severed spinal cord and a broken neck. Miraculously, Chelsea escaped with only minor injuries after sliding off the horse.

Keane underwent two major surgeries, coming close to death twice during his one-month stay at Antelope Valley Hospital, his doctors said. He was forced to wear a metal halo attached to a brace with pins screwed into his head, was put in traction and confined to a wheelchair.

Through it all, he and his family never gave up hope.

And so began a flood of "little miracles," Keane's wife, Deborah, said.

When the couple ran out of money, friends and fellow members of Zion Christian Center in Orange began giving. So did people the Keanes didn't even know.

"People donated money when we most needed it," Deborah Keane said, adding that anonymous donors also gave the family a recliner chair, food and even a Mercedes-Benz for them to use.

Now Zion Christian Center and five other Orange County churches are organizing a two-mile walk-a-thon to raise money to buy a van with wheelchair accessibility, to give to the Keanes. So far, 200 volunteers have signed up for Sunday's event.

The family lives with Deborah Keane's parents in Orange Hills. They had to leave their apartment in Lancaster because their savings account had been depleted. Deborah Keane had to quit her waitress job to care for her husband, who had been a carpenter.

Matthew Keane's faith in God has helped him cope with his ordeal, he said.

"The hardest thing is not being able to hold my wife and pick up my kids like I used to," he said, his eyes glistening. "But, I have faith and a lot of hope that I will be able to walk again."

That will take a miracle, his doctors say, for they believe he will never walk again.

"I'm not counting on the doctors, I'm counting on God," said Keane, whose smile comes easily. "He does miracles every day. There's no reason why I can't be one of them."

Either way, he's not bitter over what happened, he said.

"We know God has a plan for us," his wife said.

Tera Ochoa, a friend who is organizing the walk-a-thon, said, "We've known Matt and Debbie for a long time, and we want them to have that van because we love them, and I think it's important that we, as Christians, reach out to people. This is a great way to show that we care about other people and to share their burdens."

The walk-a-thon takes place Sunday at 1 p.m., beginning at Zion Christian Center on Cambridge Street. It will end in Santa Ana at the First Assembly of God Church on Santa Clara Avenue, where Santa Ana firefighters will await the finishers. Keane will be wheeled in at the front of the pack.

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