One of the most memorable people I've interviewed in my travels is Ken Kunken, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Nassau County District Attorney's office. Over 30 years ago, Kunken suffered a spinal cord injury at age 20 while playing football at Cornell University, paralyzing him from the neck down. Despite his life-altering injury, Kunken's gifted intellect and perseverance afforded him an impressive string of academic and professional achievements. Ken would be the first to say these pale in comparison to becoming a Dad. "Being a father is my proudest accomplishment", says Kunken. When Kunken and his wife, Anna, decided to have a family, they sought help from The Miami Project- an organization specializing in fertility issues for paralyzed males.
They were introduced to Dr. Bruce Gilbert, a specialist, at the Smith Institute for Urology in New Hyde Park, Long Island. Through the miracle of modern medicine, Ken underwent procedures in sperm harvesting and Anna for in-vitro fertilization. Four attempts later, Anna gave birth to triplets - Joey, Jimmy and Timothy. Now age 5, each boy has a distinct personality, "Joseph is the oldest by one minute;
he is the leader and very talkative. James is the artistic one -mischievous- but goes out of his way to help. Timothy is the quiet one, and likes to sit on my lap," Kunken confided. This Father's day is a special one for the Kunken family. Ken, along with his father Leonard Kunken, 88, and his father-in-law Kazik
Blazejcyk, 67, celebrated early this week by presenting as a family on a fatherhood session at the Smith Institute. Dr. Gilbert spoke about medical advances in fertility options. Having been a devoted uncle for years before his marriage, Ken shared a poignant memory on his transition to fatherhood, "When I went to the neo-natal unit to spend time with my boys, I started to introduce mysel; 'Hi Joey, it's Uncle Ken..' I caught myself (and added) … 'It's Daddy'. It was great to say that word for the first time," Kunken said.
Parenting has also profoundly impacted Kunken's experience of his disability. Before fatherhood, Kunken explains his health concerns - attendant care or transportation- took up his focus. "I still have hard days, but their smiling faces help me put it aside. Making sure these boys are the best people they can be, is a challenge I enjoy every day."