„The web is a good place if we make it so“, is Johannes Korten’s legacy. He had organised the charity campaign #einBuchfuerKai (#abookforKai) that went viral all over the German speaking web. Two years later, #einRadfuerKai (#abikeforKai) managed to proceed with that. This is the story of Kai and the good the web has brought him and continues to bring.
Kai-Eric Fitzner was mid forties and ready to restart in his job when he was hit by a severe stroke: From one moment to the next nothing was the same anymore, neither for him or his family.
Among netizens Kai was already known. He travelled all over Germany in explaining to companies the significance of digitalisation and why they could not avoid the subject. When he looks at recordings of those speeches today he says: „Still the same! But I can’t help anymore…“
As a result of the stroke Kai has become hemiplegic on his right side, and is now starting slowly to walk again. The worst for him is the aphasia. A dysfunction of language that impairs talking, reading and writing. Language is still Kai’s favourite thing, but unfortunately he cannot express it in the same way that he sees it in his head. Kai needs to relearn everything. „So frustrating“, he sighs.
#einBuchfuerKai and Lovestorm No.1
When Kai was hit by this stroke, he had only just self-published his novel „Willkommen im Meer“ (Welcome to the Sea). It was a long struggle and he had become self-employed. His eldest son had already left home, their teenage daughter and youngest son, who was in kindergarden, still lived at home. His wife had just begun secondary studies to become a German teacher for non native speakers. And then the stroke hit. Suddenly everything was insecure: Would Kai survive this? And if so, with which impediments? How should the first months be organised logistically and financially? Looking for help, his wife reached out to Kai’s contacts in his Facebook profile and described their emergency:
She thought that if only enough people bought Kai’s novel, the family would be financially sound. Everyone who has published a book though knows all to well that you don’t make much money with this and that it takes quite some time for the money to reach the author.
Johannes Korten, one of Kai’s contacts, knew that too. Luckily he worked at the GLS-Bank, a bank with a social orientation. So he already had a big and helpful network of people. He realised that buying the book wouldn’t help. Still he supported Kai’s wife in pursuing #einBuchfuerKai as a long shot project. In addition to that he opened a charity account where in two weeks over 13.000 Euros were donated for the family helping to alleviate their financial problems.
Meanwhile „Willkommen im Meer“ climbed the bestseller list on Amazon. After numerous blogs reporting about the story, offline media caught up and reported about Kai‘s story too. A gigantic lovestorm spread across the web and beyond. His book became the no.1 bestseller. But Kai had no idea of all that, he was in a coma.
Johannes Korten tried to keep the family out of the media circus as far as possible. Especially when Kai woke up but couldn‘t yet communicate, when he went into rehab and started his long way to recovery. Only now his wife could let Kai know what had happened and it took him a while to fully comprehend it all.
The new everyday life
While Kai was fighting for his recovery, his wife went back to university. Now and then she posted about Kai’s progress in his Facebook profile and in a support group where people could leave good wishes for Kai. Then slowly but surely the hype around #einBuchfuerKai subsided.
Kai’s next big step was coming home from rehab and taking part in a lecture of his novel in a bookstore in his hometown of Oldenburg. In the meantime the publishing company, Droemer Knaur, had taken care of his novel that was now not only published as paperback but also in a digital and an audio version.
Next, Kai started to take managing his everyday life back into his own hands. Therapies had to be followed and he had to train climbing the stairs to the second floor apartment. So in the beginning, physio-, ergo- and speech therapy had to take place at his home. Soon this became too crowded. Transporting him to the daily therapy sessions had to be organised. Luckily his friends could help him and several times someone from the Facebook group helped out too.
It didn‘t take long for Kai to take his first steps on the web again. First only as an observer, then starting to like things here and there and finally by sharing posts of others. Writing was still not possible. But people welcomed him with a big hello anyway.
Kai‘s health insurance had provided him with an electric wheelchair to allow him to drive to therapy on his own. Not a big motivation for someone who was in the process of learning to walk again. He started to look for an alternative. But what could it be? In a bike shop in Oldenburg he discovered a recumbent bike, which can be steered with only one hand and pedaled with only one foot:
But would his health insurance cover it? Again his wife addressed Kai‘s contacts for advice. And that’s where I enter the story. Cases like that, are my husband’s field of expertise. He could quickly tell that asking the insurance was of no use. Health insurances aren‘t in charge of things like this because a bike isn’t acknowledged as assistive but it is seen as a device for sports, which is considered leisure. No matter if it builds your muscle strength and helps to improve many other aspects. No compromise there. And so the respective application was refused with no chance of objection.
#einRadfuerKai as Crowdfunding Project
Like the first time the web had an answer: „Let’s collect money again“, suggested one of Kai’s followers and it got many positive reactions. This time there was less money needed, so that should be doable, shouldn’t it? But how to organise that? Sadly Johannes Korten wasn’t alive anymore to give us advice…
As so often in this story the factor of someone knowing someone else who knows someone, played a significant role. I remembered my former client Holger Nikelis. Over ten years ago I had been in charge of Holger’s public relations preparing his first Paralympics as a wheelchair table-tennis player. Now, at the beginning of 2017, he had just finished his active sports career and become self-employed, starting a non-profit agency for inclusive sport events called Sport Grenzenlos (sport without barriers).
Holger was immediately enthusiastic about the idea to cooperate again and suggested collecting the money via crowdfunding. He already knew the perfect platform for it: fairplaid.org. Kai and his family liked the idea too. This time Kai could not only witness the whole campaign live but give something back in return. So Holger began organising it.
Meanwhile, Kai and I had revived his blog mondspiegel.de in order to tell his story so far in weekly episodes. In the beginning we could only communicate through his wife, but slowly we approached each other directly via Facebook chat and finally via Skype and finally managed to cooperate without intermediary. As Kai isn‘t able to write yet, he is sending me emojis instead.
Since February 11th 2017 we Skyped daily which isn’t only great for us, but also for his speech therapist. She told me excitedly that Skyping had opened the gates for Kai who calls me a „catalyst“. The fact that he can now pronounce such a complicated word just like that, speaks volumes. We try to document this and other progress in his blog. Of course the crowdfunding project became a subject there too.
When the crowdfunding started on March 28th 2017 we had prepared for a duration of two weeks. None of us had done this before. But we reached our goal in only 50 hours! On the first evening we had already got half of the crowdfunding sum and #einRadfuerKai was trending on Twitter thanks to a tweet by Rouven Kasten from the GLS bank:
On the second day people kept giving and so we reached 85 percent in the evening. When only 7 percent was outstanding someone must have made a big donation or many small ones happened at once, because suddenly the count jumped from 93 to 101 percent. We had already reached the crowdfunding goal! Wow!
„Done“ was all Kai managed to say when shortly afterwards he arrived back home from therapy. And he wasn‘t only referring to the crowdfunding project. In speech therapy he had followed the final spurt and was just about to help his therapist with her donation when he saw that the sum had been reached. In addition to that he had hardly slept for three nights, shattered as a result of it all.
I had to fight back tears because I could watch Kai witnessing this time how much love and how much good kept coming to him from the web. „Unbelievable“ he muttered over and over again, and „how awesome“. Due to his awe and his aphasia he wasn’t able to say more.
After our initial shock and a good night’s sleep we soon recovered and when we Skyped the next day, Kai proudly reported: „Bike ordered!“
Kai is very motivated by the perspective of being able to move around in his own. While I’m writing this article half of the two weeks of the crowdfunding project has nearly passed. It‘s only after the planned two weeks that we get access to the data in order to organise the presents that we offered as incentives.
Kai would love to write to everyone immediately – even though he isn‘t yet able to write at all. It will be enough of a strain for him to put his name on every card. He’ll also make a bike tour with the biggest doners and offer to play table tennis with them and Holger. Although these are all things he can’t do just like that.
But that’s Kai: going from one challenge to the next. And if someone can manage that, it’s him!
This article has originally been published in German on upload-magazin.de