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Local child abuse survivor makes it his mission to help others

Posted at 10:13 PM, Jun 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-06 08:06:08-04

A local survivor of child abuse has made it his mission to help others, including the organization he credits with saving his life.

Thomas Kelly sees the beauty in every day. It shows in his photos.

"I don't have full range of motion in this hand, so it takes me a few seconds longer to load the camera," Kelly said.

Kelly owns a photography and production company: Thomas Kelly Productions. It's a dream that, at one point, seemed nearly impossible.

Kelly survived a severe brain injury at just two-years-old. The result of abuse by a baby-sitter. His case made headlines in the 1980's. His abuser spent time in jail.

"From what I know, he was angry that I stuck my hand in a fish tank, and he picked me up and threw me," Kelly said. "My head hit the wall, and then came down and hit the edge of an end table. The police report says he let me lay there for awhile and eventually saw I wasn't breathing. He told the hospital I fell down the stairs."

Kelly had to undergo surgeries and extended treatment at Children's Hospital.

"I remember playing in the toy room there," he said. "That was my escape. It allowed me to be a child. All the doctors and nurses were so kind."

Kelly beat the odds, overcoming physical challenges and a learning disability, to graduate from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Now, many of the toys in the Neuroscience Wing at Children's Hospital are there because of him.

"I remember as a kid, every time I left the hospital, I'd always say that someday I would return on my own terms, and do a lot for the kids," Kelly said.

Besides the toys, Kelly donates 10% of his profits to the Neuroscience's Department. It's something Children's Hospital is grateful for.

"He wants others to have the positive experience he did, and we are grateful for that," said Erin Yale, Executive Director of Neuroscience's and Imaging at Children's Hospital. "That is our hope that every child and family leaves with that same feeling. We work to meed medical and emotional needs, and we want the quality care patients receive here to last with them long after healing physically. We love hearing the success stories of children we treat. We are proud of Thomas."

To this day, The Neuroscience Department sees cases of abuse. They have a team trained to handle "non-accidental trauma", and they work closely with police, social workers, and the state of Wisconsin.

Abuse cases are hard to track, and many go unreported. But child abuse affects millions of children in the U.S. each year. Kelly hopes his story can provide hope.

"For the kids that are there now getting treatment, hopefully they see my story, and it can make a difference for them," Kelly said. "I would tell them to keep going, don't give up. Even on days it's really hard. I was there, I know how hard it can be. This is my purpose. This is why I'm still alive."