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Pinellas Hope makes man's surgery possible

After telling volunteers of his knee pain, a homeless man finally gets relief.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published December 13, 2007


When Frank Kearney walked, his leg would turn so that is was difficult to stand up.

"It's some medical condition, I don't know what they call it," he said on Monday, as he sat in a wheelchair within the gates of the outdoor shelter Pinellas Hope. "You fall down a lot. You lose your balance."

Kearney knows a lot about hard falls.

He is 51 and homeless. He knows exactly how he got here.

In his younger days, he made some bad decisions. A few months shy of his 30th birthday, he was caught carrying a concealed weapon. He assaulted a police officer.

For the next three decades, he tried to stay out of trouble. He joined a rock band that played "Kid Rock music," as he calls it. He was performing at a beach bar on Christmas in 2006 when a brawl broke out. He got into another fight a week later. He was charged with aggravated battery in both incidents, his first felonies since 1986 when he hit the cop. He got 18 months' probation.

He lost his job as a day worker, started living on the streets. He was staying on the top bunk in a shelter bed, when he rolled off and fell on his knee. The pain was immediate.

"I thought it would go away, but it kept getting worse," he said. "I didn't understand why."

He showed up at Pinellas Hope the day it opened. He told volunteers about the burning pain in his knee. He couldn't walk, he told them. They promised to get him help.

On Monday, they told him to wake up early. He was going in for surgery.

At the hospital, he lay on a gurney as they brought him into the operating room. In unison, the surgery team put on their masks.

Suddenly, he was afraid of what could happen next. He wanted to run, but he couldn't move. The anesthesia had started to kick in.

When he woke up, they told him they had drilled two holes in his kneecap. They used a laser to fix the torn cartilage.

Later that day, Pinellas Hope volunteers gave him the wheelchair and moved him into a tent near a pathway, so he could get around easily.

"They don't have to be so nice," he said, tucking his 305's brand cigarettes between the bandages around his leg.

When the cast comes off in two weeks, Kearney will start looking for a job. For the first time in a long while, he will try to stand on his own two feet.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Cristina Silva can be reached at or 727 893-8846.

Fast facts

Pinellas Hope

Pinellas Hope is an outdoor shelter located off 49th Street N in unincorporated St. Petersburg. The shelter opened Dec. 1 and will close in April. For the next five months, the St. Petersburg Times will run occasional profiles on the men and women who call Pinellas Hope home.

[Last modified December 12, 2007, 22:06:38]

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