Gary Sinise Foundation

Kaleb Konoff

U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant

Kaleb Konoff

Kaleb grew up in a tight-knit neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio, where his friends were all within biking distance. “My family had a big yard with lots of room and my friends would all come over to play army.” His interest in military life was inspired by a friend’s father. “He was a high-ranking official in the National Guard. A week before college began, I decided to enlist in the Air Force.”

After enlisting in 2016, Kaleb trained to work in ammunition. “I was responsible for inventory, inspection, and delivering anything from a .22 caliber bullet to a 2000 bomb and sometimes bigger to aircraft.”

On July 3, 2020, Kaleb was deployed in Iraq, working the night shift. “On breaks I would go to the gym and workout. I was later told that I was found unresponsive on the ground in the gym, having seizure-like activities. I was taken to the nearest first aid location via the back of a pickup truck and then flown by helicopter to Baghdad to stabilize. The doctors decided not to give me the clot busting drug for strokes because I was too young to be having a stroke.” Soon after arriving in Germany, Kaleb received an MRI and was immediately rushed into emergency brain surgery: he had, in fact, had a stroke. He was only 23 years old.

After stabilizing in Germany, Kaleb was flown to Walter Reed Medical Center, then transported to the Palo Alto Poly Trauma inpatient rehab and the Palo Alto, VA. “When I arrived, I could not eat, swallow, talk, walk, sit up, hold my head up, or go to the bathroom on my own. My right arm and leg were paralyzed. I spent 14 months as an inpatient learning to do everything again. My mom refused to leave my side until COVID got too serious to allow anyone in the rehab facility to stay with me.”

During his lowest moments, Kaleb relied on the support of others. “My roommate in rehab told me I was young and I had that going for me. A spinal cord injured patient told me I needed to start using my manual wheelchair more than my electric wheelchair to incur more activity and cut back on kidney stone build up. My family continually told me this is a temporary speed bump and that we would get through this together.”

Today, Kaleb and his mother live in Phoenix, close to a facility where Kaleb receives intensive physical, occupational, speech and psychology therapy. “Our rent is a little on the high side, but the apartment is big and spacious and adapted for wheelchairs. We are on the 4th floor, which is not a good place to be if there is a fire or natural disaster or if the elevator breaks down, which happens on a regular basis. There are no adapted apartments in our building on the 1st floor.”

When asked what a specially adapted smart home would mean to him, Kaleb said, “I have not had my own home since a couple months prior to my stroke, when I deployed to Iraq. I left my home over two years ago, never imagining I wouldn’t return. Mom and I both miss our old homes and we both would feel more settled in a home of our own. Eventually, I would like to get a service dog, so a yard would be helpful. I hope to become independent enough to not have my mom helping me full time.”