Quadriplegic graduate student, avid sports fan dies at age 27

Published: April 17, 2007  |  Source: friendsformichael.org
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mbrentMichael Brent, a UK graduate student, avid sports fan and former athlete who developed Quadriplegia after a car accident in high school, died at 6 a.m. yesterday from stomach ulcer complications. He was 27.

Originally from Campbellsburg, Ky., Brent began studying at UK in 2000, and the people who knew him all remember the same thing – his positive outlook on life.

Brent, a former Kernel and recent Cats’ Pause reporter, inspired a foundation in his name to raise money for spinal cord research. He received a degree in journalism from UK in 2004 and was going to graduate from UK’s communication graduate program in May.

After presenting Brent with UK’s Adelstein Award for Excellent Students in 2004, Doug Boyd, UK President Lee Todd’s chief of staff, said he was in awe of Brent’s incredible attitude.

“To my amazement he said his horrific accident may have been the best thing to happen to him because it made him a better person and a better student,” Boyd said. “I think he was an inspiration to virtually anyone he came in contact with.”

At Henry County High School, Brent played basketball, baseball and golf until a car accident in 1997. According to a story that ran in 2000 in Paws Print, the Henry County High School newspaper, Brent fell asleep while driving home from a round of golf. The car flipped and Brent broke his neck, leaving him paralyzed.

Soon after the accident, Brent’s friends in the community formed a spinal cord injury organization called Friends for Michael. The organization holds an annual 5K Run/Walk and a golf scramble each September. In 2000 it partnered with the University of Louisville to use the money it raised for spinal cord research.

The organization will continue the events it has hosted in the past, said Kelley Woods, the vice president of Friends for Michael. She said the most remarkable thing about Brent was his perseverance.

“Michael never gave up,” she said. “He never let (the accident) stop him; he just went on with his life.”

Brent was unable to play sports after the accident, but his involvement in the sports scene took a new turn.

Brent wrote sports stories for the Kernel in 2004 and started reporting for The Cats’ Pause in February 2005. He covered basketball and football recruiting. The fan base Brent had from writing for the Cats’ Pause is evident on the publication’s Web site message board, where as of last night, more than 80 people left posts on a thread devoted to his memory.

He also was a frequent commentator on the Joe B. and Denny Show, a local sports radio show, his friends said.

“He was a hardcore sports fan,” said Matt Bard, an engineering freshman who got to know Brent in New North Hall, where they both lived this year. “He was such a happy guy in a situation I don’t think I could handle.”

He and Brent often played video games like Madden NFL and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. Brent used an Xbox controller that he could hook up to his mouth, as he couldn’t use his hands.

If someone wanted to find Brent at UK, he was usually “baking like a lizard” outside of New North Hall on sunny days, and it wasn’t uncommon for a crowd of students to be around him, said Betsy Fisher, office assistant at New North Hall.

“He would always sit outside here and soak up sun,” said biology and chemistry junior Ross Oates, Brent’s resident advisor.

“He had people around him all the time and he just loved life,” said Kristen Smith, a family studies senior who met Brent six years ago through the Disability Resource Center. “He always had girls around him, I swear,” she added with a laugh.

Andrew Schuette, a communication disorders senior and a member of Brent’s fraternity Pi Kappa Phi, said he couldn’t recall a single instance when Brent complained about his situation.

“There was never a disability first,” Schuette said. “He was just a normal college guy. He would come out and party with us, and if we were watching a game, drinking beer, he’d be right there with us.”

“Anytime you go think about going to a football, basketball, baseball game, it’s going to be weird to think that he won’t be there,” said Brent’s resident director at New North Hall, Justin Blevins. “Now we’ll never get the full story on how he feels about Gillispie.”

Brent is survived by his mother Linda Berry, her husband Phil Berry, his father Frank Brent and his brother Matthew Brent. Funeral services will be Friday at Prewitt Funeral Home in Newcastle, Ky. Visitation is all day Thursday at the funeral home.

By: Alice Haymond
© Copyright 2007 KY Kernel