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By Zach Giordano, video by Sam Crimmins
| January 10, 2017
Korey Foley is hardly your typical mayor. And Franciscan Children’s in Brighton is anything but your typical community, providing care for children with some of the most complex medical, mental health, and educational needs imaginable.
But as you watch Korey navigate through the hallways in his motorized wheelchair, pointing things out using his touch-to-talk tablet, doling out high-fives and his famous thumbs-up, and sneaking in a hug with his mom (a nurse on the inpatient medical unit there), it’s easy to see why he is the perfect ambassador for this special place, the unofficial mayor.
“You can see him light up when he comes in,” says John D. Nash, CEO of Franciscan Children’s, “because this is his home away from home.”
Korey has been a part of the Franciscan Children’s family for 20 of his 24 years—and nobody knows it better than he does. As he leads a tour with a tablet acting as his voice, his personality bursts through. But even though he’s always smiling, and always making those around him smile, Korey’s positive outlook has been hard won.
Korey has faced tremendous challenges in his life, including addiction, trauma, escalating illnesses, prolonged hospital stays, and constant rehabilitation, and has risen to meet them all. But not without help.
He has all his doctors and caregivers to thank for his health, but two people in particular—two people who are now lucky enough to call themselves his mom and dad—are responsible for giving him a real home.
A boy is born—and his challenges begin
Korey Foley was born on June 14, 1993, with trace amounts of alcohol and cocaine coursing through his body. His exposure to these chemicals in utero resulted in multiple congenital birth defects. As a newborn, Korey overcame the addictions forced upon him, but this marked only the beginning of his treatments and recovery.
At age three, Korey went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to Boston Medical Center. Doctors discovered a cyst growing on his brain stem and a hole in his heart. The cyst was removed, but Korey was no longer able to breathe or swallow on his own. Doctors performed a tracheostomy to create an artificial airway in his windpipe and placed a gastrointestinal tube (g-tube) to help him eat.
After being transferred to Franciscan Children’s and waking from his coma, Korey had his heart repaired. Finally, with both his brain and his heart on the mend, Korey was able to begin his recovery and rehabilitation in earnest.
But something less expected came with his transfer to Franciscan Children’s: an outpouring of love and support in what became his second home.
A child transforms—and his full potential is reached
When Korey arrived at Franciscan Children’s in a coma, doctors were unsure if he would ever regain consciousness, but his admitting nurse, Mary Cait Foley, never doubted he would wake up. It wasn’t until she felt Korey squeeze her hand one day that she learned how right she was—and just how strong one little boy could be.
Shortly after waking, Korey began rehabilitative therapy treatments. He worked with a physical therapist on how to operate his motorized wheelchair and a speech therapist to learn to communicate using voice output software on a tablet.
It didn’t take long before Korey started winning hearts. He adored the attention from staff and would joke and play as much as he could. He also worked hard to make tremendous progress in both his rehabilitation and his schoolwork—all of it at Franciscan Children’s.
“We focus on what a child can do, not what a child can’t do,” says CEO Nash. Franciscan Children’s, he says, has the unique ability to both care for and teach children.
“Over time, a child may need to access our services as an inpatient, then as an outpatient, then may enroll in our school, and be seen in our mental health program—all focused on allowing children to reach their fullest potential.”
Mary Cait stayed by Korey’s side at every stage; drawn closer to him by the kind spirit and loving personality she saw emerging with each day. She brought him down to his classes at the Kennedy Day School, a fully collaborative special education program for children with complex needs located on-site at Franciscan Children’s, and she and her husband, Mark, would play games and watch movies with him on a regular basis.
“I thought he was adorable,” says Mary Cait. “He had secretions from every orifice, and his head was wrapped up because of his tumor surgery, but I still thought he was the cutest thing ever.”
Mark tried to warn his wife not to get too attached to Korey. He was too late.
A family becomes whole—and lives are changed
Over the course of his rehabilitation, Korey’s bond with the Foleys only grew stronger. After five years, the Foleys eventually reached out to Korey’s biological parents, who acknowledged that they were simply unable to provide Korey with the round-the-clock care that he needed. After the Foleys assured them of their love and commitment to Korey, Mark and Mary Cait were able to adopt him—and make him part of their family.
The adoption process was meant to begin with foster care. After the Foleys completed the required courses through the state, adapted their home for Korey’s wheelchair, and planned his leaves of absence from the necessary care he was receiving at Franciscan Children’s, the plan was to foster him for a year before going through a full adoption. But things did not go according to plan.
In December 2001, Korey developed sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection, and was rushed into intensive care at Boston Children’s Hospital. After spending four weeks in his second coma, Korey once again showed his soon-to-be parents how much of a fighter he was.
“We weren’t sure what was going to happen,” says Mark. “His doctor told us we might have to make a decision, but we knew he was still in there. Then, one day after New Year’s, they sat him up, and his eyes were open; it looked like he was looking at me. So I asked him, ‘Could I get a smile?’ And half his lip goes up. So I said, ‘How about the other half?’ And then the other half went up. Everyone was amazed he came back again.”
Right then, Mark and Mary Cait decided to skip foster care and move to adopt Korey. Both Franciscan Children’s and The Home for Little Wanderers supported the adoption, with the Home providing the legal groundwork in order to see the process through.
The Foleys were legally able to call Korey their son on Feb. 5, 2003, only four months shy of his tenth birthday. Since then, he’s flourished with his new family… and his Franciscan family.
“Growing up, Korey was very happy, and very social,” says Mary Cait. “He loves being with his large family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. And he loved being at school with his classmates and teachers, who he still keeps in touch with. He’s always so supportive—he wants everyone to succeed.”
Korey Foley lives with his mom and dad in West Roxbury. His room is full of all his favorite things: pictures and artwork, stacks of books, and CDs of all his favorite music, like Big Time Rush and Elvis—especially Elvis. His desk is covered with holiday movies and holds his laptop, where he watches his favorite YouTubers count down the best moments from one of his favorite shows, “The Descendants”.
Glancing around his room, it’s obvious he’s found his home.
A hero emerges—and his future is bright
On a sunny day in November, Korey waits in a conference room at Franciscan Children’s for Jason Wiser, a local comic book artist, illustrator, and adjunct professor at Harvard University. When Jason arrives, the two become fast friends—and immediately dive into the topic on everyone’s minds: superheroes.
“Do you have a favorite superhero?” Korey asks, skipping all the small talk.
“I do,” says Jason. “I’m a big fan of the DC heroes, so I love Superman and Batman, but I’ve been reading X-Men for the last 35 years. How about you?”
“My favorites are Flash, Supergirl, Spiderman, Batman, and Superman,” Korey responds. “If I could have a superpower, it would be to run really fast like Flash. I think that would be pretty cool.”
Jason scribbles notes furiously.
“My superhero suit would be orange,” Korey says. “And I would wear a mask, but no cape.”
“Excellent,” says Jason. “Now, how does your character get your speed? I hear you really like music; would you like something to do with music that makes you really fast?”
Korey smiles and nods enthusiastically, and continues nodding at what Jason says next. “You could sing for your speed! How about The Singing Speedster.”
And with that mutual understanding between two strangers, a wondrous persona is born. In this new and imaginary world, no longer is Korey Foley a young man confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak. Instead, he’s an exciting superhero, bursting with muscles, zipping off to save the day, to dunk a basketball, and to show the world the warm, friendly, and amazing place that feels like home.
To learn more about children like Korey and the services that Franciscan Children’s provides, please visit franciscanchildrens.org.
To learn more about Jason and see more of his work, visit yayaplay.com.
Sponsored by Franciscan Children's
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