Jason Keatseangsilp doesn’t hesitate. He dives in.
Big dreams have come true for Jason, dreams most people can’t even imagine: competing with Team USA, designing an exoskeleton to help someone walk, and earning a biomedical engineering degree. Nothing slows Jason down. Not even a spinal cord injury.
As a graduating high school senior in 2011 in Tucson, Ariz., Jason was on the brink of a bright future. He had received interest from several Division III colleges for tennis and was deep into planning when he got injured in a climbing accident.
“I love tennis, so it was hard for me to give up playing when I was injured," said Jason. "Yet during my time at Craig Hospital, I played Ping-Pong as a substitute for tennis, which helped change my mentality. Meeting fellow Craig graduates who found ways to still do what they love was inspiring.”
Jason is incredibly appreciative of his experience at Craig, which is evident in his tribute to Craig that he made after his time here. The positive encouragement of the staff fit his desire to get better and adapt to life in a wheelchair. He stays in touch with Craig alums in Tucson and comes back to visit us when he’s in town.
“I really appreciate the continued connection with the staff and seeing what Craig graduates are doing,” he says.
After Jason finished rehab, he realized his dream of going to college, attending the University of Arizona in his hometown of Tucson. He recently took over U of A’s Instagram account for Disability Pride Month. Jason was always strong in sciences and math, but after spending time learning about assistive technology at Craig, he narrowed his focus to biomedical engineering. His career goal is to empower others with disabilities to regain function.
“My capstone senior project was leading a team to design and fabricate an exoskeleton prototype for a student with cerebral palsy so he could walk. Watching him take those first steps was an unmatched feeling of accomplishment,” Jason says.
After checking "graduating college with honors" off the list in 2017, it was time for Jason to tackle his other huge dream: playing tennis competitively. He’d played a few wheelchair tennis tournaments in college and did well. Yet getting a call from Jason Harnett, wheelchair tennis national manager and head coach with the US Tennis Association (USTA), was a complete surprise. The coach invited Jason to be a part of Team USA's high-performance program. Over the last few years, he has traveled across the world with his family at his side to support him. He also tutors chemistry, math, and engineering students at U of A.
“I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to play tennis for Team USA. My goal was to simply have fun playing tennis again and see how far I could go. I didn’t anticipate that I would get this far, and I still don’t think I’ve peaked yet,” he says. “I’m still in training, playing tennis five to six days a week.”
Jason will tell you that a return trip to Craig in 2013 after his initial inpatient stay is what made all this possible. Since his injury, he'd been in constant nerve pain — pain that forced him to medically withdraw from college for a semester. Letting pain overtake his life was not something he could accept. That’s why he decided to undergo neurosurgery with Dr. Scott Falci.
“The surgery was a huge milestone for me,” Jason says. “I woke up almost completely pain-free and immediately said, ‘I’m going back to school.’ It was a very clear decision and all I have done since then — tennis, tutoring, earning my biomedical engineering degree — was possible because of that decision.”
Jason’s next big dream, besides getting into a top graduate school for biomedical engineering? Competing in the Paralympics.
Dreaming big has definitely paid off for Jason, so making the 2021 US Paralympics tennis team is a real possibility. We’re backing you up and cheering you on, Jason!