Fundraiser set for Southold woman who suffered sudden illness

Claire Kennedy

The ordeal that nearly claimed Claire Kennedy’s life began harmlessly enough. On New Year’s Day, while running errands, she felt a little tired. Over the next few days, it seemed as though she had the flu, her husband, Tom, said.

By the end of the week, however, Ms. Kennedy, a lifelong Southold resident, was at Eastern Long Island Hospital with what doctors determined to be bacterial meningitis, an “inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ms. Kennedy’s health quickly worsened as her neurological condition deteriorated. On Jan. 7, she was rushed to Stony Brook University Hospital as a snowstorm blanketed the area. There was no time to wait, her husband said.

“The paramedics [from Stony Brook] who transported her took great care to get her there,” Mr. Kennedy said. “It took them way over two hours in the snow. It was quite a journey.”

Soon after, doctors identified the specific bacteria as listeria, which is most often found in older adults, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems, according to the CDC. Mr. Kennedy said the infection was likely caused by something she ate. The prognosis was grim: Doctors told Mr. Kennedy that on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst, his wife was an 8 or a 9.

What followed for Ms. Kennedy, a 47-year-old mother of three, has been nearly six weeks in the ICU — including several days on a ventilator and then almost a week to wake up — multiple procedures to alleviate swelling in her head and a long, difficult road to recovery.

Mr. Kennedy said doctors are hopeful she can make a full recovery. To help Ms. Kennedy’s family, several close friends and community members have banded together and will host a fundraiser Saturday in her honor at The Crazy Fork in Mattituck.

Ms. Kennedy, who worked with the Long Island Wine Council, had always been committed to community service through various efforts such as collecting goods to send to troops overseas, an endeavor she undertook with lifelong friend Patty Hocker this past holiday season for the third straight year.

Ms. Hocker has been one the people instrumental in organizing Saturday’s fundraiser, which will feature a chinese auction from 3 to 6 p.m. The event, which is open to the public and features music, raffles and food, will run until 8 p.m. and tickets are $25 each.

“She’s just an incredibly giving, loving person,” Ms. Hocker said of Ms. Kennedy. “A lot of people have described it to me as she’s a light. She has just this wonderful sense about her that she spreads joy wherever she goes.”

The fundraiser has been in the works for more than a month. A GoFundMe page has also raised more than $11,000 for the family.

Danielle Grzegorczyk, owner of The Crazy Fork, said she had never met the Kennedys before deciding to suggest her restaurant for the fundraiser. After reading a story online about what Ms. Kennedy had been going through, Ms. Grzegorczyk said she was eager to help, so she reached out to Ms. Hocker to offer her assistance.

Ms. Grzegorczyk said there’s been a lot of support for the fundraiser so far and that she expects a large turnout. She met Mr. Kennedy for the first time recently when he stopped by the restaurant. They talked for about a half-hour, she said.

“He was very taken aback,” she said of his reaction to the event.

Mr. Kennedy said the support has been overwhelming.

“I think it’s a testament to Claire and the kind of person she is,” he said. “My wife has so many varied interests and so many different friends from all over, I really learned more about her through this process. I’m looking at [the fundraiser] as an opportunity to come out and say thank you to everyone for what they’ve done for us as a family.”

On Valentine’s Day, Ms. Kennedy was transferred to Glen Cove Hospital to begin rehabilitation at the facility’s Brain Injury Unit. Her physical recovery has been coming along faster than cognitive aspects such as short-term memory, Mr. Kennedy said.

“The best way I can describe it to her, it’s like rebooting a computer,” he said. “That’s basically where she’s at now.”

Mr. Kennedy said his wife will likely come home in a few weeks, where she’ll continue to need outpatient therapy. She may even spend time at a skilled nursing facility.

“She’s shown a lot of strength and determination to get back home to her boys,” he said.

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File photo: Claire Kennedy, pictured in 2015 alongside her husband, Tom, has been battling listeria meningitis since January. A fundraiser is planned for her Saturday at Crazy Fork in Mattituck. (Credit: Vera Chinese)