Kenneth Hilliard may have fractured his hip, but his spirit remains intact.
Staff at Quinton Memorial Rehabilitation Center, a part of Hamilton Health Care System, are singing the praises of their former patient, a 94-year-old man they say beat the odds for individuals his age through hard work and a refusal to give up. Older adults are inherently at greater risk of hip fractures. They also face more difficult recoveries and are less likely to regain full function.
Christy Callaway, director of rehab at Quinton, says Hilliard came to Quinton in June 2022 and stayed about five months. Rehab was slow and difficult. When Hilliard initially entered, he had just had surgery to repair a hip fracture he sustained in a fall, and he used a wheelchair. By the end of his treatment, he could walk out the door and go home.
“He persevered and he wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Callaway says. “He worked as hard as any patient I think I’ve had since I’ve been in this building.”
Hilliard is no stranger to pushing through difficulty.
Raised in Cleveland, Tenn., Hilliard entered the Navy at 17 and was sent to the Philippine Islands for about 11 months during World War II. Later, he started his teaching career at Gordon Lee High School in Chickamauga and worked in Toccoa, Ga.
“When I left Toccoa, Georgia, I came to Dalton, and I started a new school — Eastbrook High School,” Hilliard says.
That school lasted 10 years before the school system was restructured, and he became a coach at Southeast High School. Hilliard still recalls all of the hard work involved in building a program from scratch. As a founding administrator and head coach at Eastbrook, Hilliard led the efforts to establish a field, stadium, team, and community involvement.
“It’s something that everybody ought to do at least once, but only once,” he says jokingly.
Hilliard spent 30 years coaching and the last years of his career as principal of North Whitfield Middle School. Hilliard is known in the community as someone who had a great influence on many young people, earning their respect with his caring – but also strict – approach. But he wasn’t just strict with his students. He also led by example with self-discipline.
When Hilliard entered Quinton, he needed help with just about everything from getting out of bed to moving through his daily routine.
Callaway says staff advised Hilliard that because of his age and the severity of his injury, he was unlikely to walk as he had before. But Hilliard was determined.
“It was hard going to start with, but I progressed,” he says.
Hilliard describes himself as “a tough old guy,” and acknowledged he leaned on his coaching experiences to get through rehab at Quinton.
“You know what it takes to win, and you’ve got to apply that to yourself,” he says. “There’s no such thing as giving up if you want to win. And everybody really wants to win. If you really want to win, you can’t ever, ever give up. You get knocked down, and you’ve got to get up.”
Jeff Ricks, facility administrator, says Quinton has a family-community environment.
“Our return to community rate is well above the state and national average, and we can definitely see that with Mr. Hilliard,” Ricks says.