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National Nurses Week Kicks Off with Talk from Motivational Speaker

Chris Kaag, a disabled United States Marine and the founder and executive director of the IM ABLE Foundation, came to Penn State Health St. Joseph on Monday with a clear message for his audience.

“My goal today is to get something into your heads,” Kaag told a group of nurses and others during his talk in the Franciscan Room at the Bern Township Campus. “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.”

Kaag’s talk was the kick-off event for the 2019 Nurses Week celebration at Penn State Health St. Joseph.

Diagnosed at age 21 with adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN), a degenerative nerve condition that makes it impossible for him to walk, Kaag, 42, has been improvising, adapting and overcoming ever since.

“After getting that diagnosis I had to make a decision,” he said. “I could either give up and let the condition control my life, or I could dig deep and push on. I chose the latter.”

Since 2007, he has been helping others to do the same.

Located in Wyomissing, the IM ABLE Foundation works with people affected by disabilities to remove obstacles that prevent them from being physically active.

Since its founding, the non-profit has raised money to provide grants for athletes with disabilities who may not be able to afford expensive sports equipment, such as bikes, skis and watersports equipment.

Much of the more than $70,000 raised in each of the past five years results from an annual fundraising event, the IM ABLE Bash.

“All the money we raise goes toward making things possible for people,” said Kaag, who also founded and runs Wyomissing-based Corps Fitness CrossFit Berks.

Kaag draws on strength he gained during his time in the Marine Corps to deal with challenges that result from his condition.

During three months of basic training at Parris Island, SC, he lost 50 pounds, but gained strength and confidence that has stayed with him.

“Boot camp was a little bit of a punch in the face for me,” he recalled. “There were times I thought I was going to die. But it also was my defining moment. It taught me not to give up, and it was the Marine Corps that saved my life after my diagnosis.”

To this day, he recalls the words his drill instructor repeatedly yelled at him during a four-mile full-on sprint during boot camp.

“He kept saying, ‘Don’t give up me, Kaag.’ I still remember those words every time I have a challenge in my life. You’d be amazed at what you can do if you just don’t quit,” Kaag said.

The speaker offered some advice to nurses in the audience in the event that they encounter a patient with a debilitating condition or who has experienced a traumatic injury that results in disability.

“You’re going to be one of first people that patient sees,” he said. “So, you need to make sure they get empowered and understand that with a positive attitude, they’ll be able to do way more than they might think they can.”

Penn State Health St. Joseph is partnering with IM ABLE as the presenting sponsor of its Got the Nerve? Triathalon, set for May 18 with registration in Mt. Gretna, Lebanon County.

You can find out more about the triathalon at gotthenerve.org or on its Facebook page. Learn more about IM ABLE, including how to get involved, at its Facebook page or at iamablefoundation.org.

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