By Ron Hayes
BOCA RATON — Kirk Coakley was only 13, a seventh-grader at St. Joan of Arc Catholic School in Boca Raton, when a van struck him as he waited to cross the street on his bike.
At the hospital, a somber doctor told Ruth Coakley that her son would not live through the night.
“You don’t know Kirk,” she told the doctor, “and you don’t know the power of prayer.”
And then she and a young seminary student named Brian Horgan prayed together.
This was on Tuesday, March 8, 1994.
Kirk Coakley lived another 24 years. He endured a traumatic brain injury that left him unable to walk or talk, but he learned to communicate with hand signals. After attending a special arts program at the Morikami Museum, he developed a passion for painting and went on to see his work exhibited at the 2014 VSA Arts Fair.
Mr. Coakley died at home on April 3. He was 37. He succumbed to a bout of pneumonia exacerbated by his injuries.
Kirk Michael Coakley was born Aug. 18, 1980, in Rochester, N.Y., but came to Boca Raton when he was 6 weeks old.
“After his accident, the slightest form of communication spoke volumes,” Ruth Coakley told The Coastal Star before her son’s art was exhibited in 2014. “A squeeze of the hand, a blink of his eyes, or a wiggle of toe. Kirk had lost his voice, but not his will to communicate.”
Before his accident, Mr. Coakley enjoyed doing artwork at school, but after seeing a woman demonstrate Japanese ink drawing at the museum, he became determined to create again, despite his limitations.
“As Kirk watched her, his eyes widened, and a smile grew on his face,” his mother recalled. “I really think it was then he believed that expression through artwork could be part of his life again.”
In addition to St. Joan of Arc, Mr. Coakley attended Royal Palm School and Twin Palms Center for the Disabled. He loved music and movies as well as the pictorial arts, but his time with family and friends brought him the most joy, his mother said.
Mr. Coakley was preceded in death by his father, William Coakley. In addition to his mother, he is survived by a brother, William, and his wife, Virginia, and nephews Billy and Jack.
On April 6, a funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Lucy Catholic Church in Highland Beach. The celebrant was Father Brian Horgan, who had prayed for his recovery on that painful night 24 years before.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to Twin Palms Center for the Disabled in Boca Raton.