Kainoa Spenser, a Pi Kappa Phi fraternity founding father whose life changed after being struck with a debilitating illness less than year ago, returned to Seton Hall on March 23 to share his inspirational story of survival.
Students, faculty and Spenser’s family all gathered in the Jubilee Hall auditorium as Spenser discussed how he contracted the disease that almost killed him, his recovery process and where he is today.
Spenser contracted necrotizing fasciitis – as a result, both of his legs and hands were amputated. On the stage in Jubilee, Spenser sat in his wheel chair, featuring two new prosthetic legs, holding a microphone with his one remaining thumb.
According to senior sports management and marketing major Anthony Tammara, a Pi Kappa Phi brother who coordinated the event, Spenser returned to SHU to reconnect with everyone, inspire people to live their lives on a greater scale and make something out of the skills and abilities they have.
Spenser was finishing his sophomore year as a diplomacy and international relations major when he awoke one morning feeling ill. He said that he was beginning to feel worse as the days progressed. At that time, Spenser had to move out of his dorm room and finish his final exams.
He said it came to a point where he had difficulty walking and that just lying in bed “felt like having a knife through his chest.”
Spenser said he called one of his friends to drive him to the airport, but instead went to the emergency room, where he was initially diagnosed with pneumonia. After flying back home to Scottsdale, Ariz., Spenser was immediately rushed to the hospital.
He said he doesn’t remember much after that.
Spenser was put in a medically-induced coma for three weeks and underwent 14 surgeries, 16 blood transfusions and what he said was a “major price to pay for his life.”
He contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a deadly bacterial skin infection, after contracting strep.
Throughout his journey on the road to recovery, Spenser said that he had an “eye-opening experience” and had a few times that were “very dark.” He added that throughout his journey, he encountered three events that illustrate his idea of community.
The first event was when one of his close friends from Seton Hall flew to Arizona to visit him in the hospital, which Spenser said helped lighten his family’s spirits during those difficult times.
The second event was when he received a package from SHU’s Sr. Francesca Therese, which contained a painting and a letter.
The third event was when his fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, hosted a fundraising event for him back in September.
“For anyone waking up in this situation where life is completely shattered, it’s hard to work past these obstacles,” Spenser said in his presentation. “Each event that happened truly allowed me to get through this.”
“The best way to find motivation is to find it outside of yourself,” he added. “When I see people sacrificing for me, it motivates me to be the best that I can. Everyone deserves to be lifted up.”
Spenser said that he also closely relates to Seton Hall’s motto, “Hazard Zet Forward,” which means, “whatever risk, yet go forward.”
Tammara said that Spenser’s journey is extremely moving and that anyone can take something positive from it.
“Kainoa inspires everyone through the way that he leads his life,” Tammara said. “When confronted with a serious physical ailment as Kainoa has endured, most people would struggle to cope. The fact that Kainoa has maintained a positive attitude and has even gone out and participated in charity events is a testament to his will and that within itself, is amazing.”
Senior political science and philosophy major Ravi Shah, who is also a brother of Pi Kappa Phi, assisted Spenser on stage and said in an email that Spenser inspired him by showing him that “miracles really do happen.”
Shah said that he and Spenser both worked together to re-charter the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at Seton Hall and became best friends.
“He’s also motivated me to see the bigger picture in life, beyond these four years in college,” Shah said. “He illustrated the power of a community when we all come together over one cause.”
Spenser now works as an intern at the K2 Adventures Foundation, an international philanthropic organization, where he works on events and social media to help fundraise.
He said he is currently raising money to help establish a new orphanage in Tanzania, which will take about 250 children off the streets and give them a home with a medical facility and an education.
A portion of the proceeds raised from Kainoa’s speech were donated to the Ability Experience, a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities, which is Pi Kappa Phi’s national philanthropy.