By Ann Marie Shambaugh
Jen Grillo lived for two things: helping children with special needs reach their full potential and enjoying time with her horse, Chance.
A weekend devoted to both turned out to be her last. The morning after accepting an award for her work from the Indiana Physical Therapy Association, she died in a car accident on the way to be with Chance during an appointment with a veterinarian.
Grillo, 45, was a physical therapist assistant at Children’s TherAplay, a Carmel outpatient rehabilitation clinic for children with special needs. Her sudden death Nov. 12 sent shockwaves through the nonprofit as coworkers and clients heard the news.
“She didn’t have children of her own, but our children at TherAplay were her kids. She loved them. She was their cheerleader and a bright spot in their life,” said Teresa Keathley, TherAplay clinic team lead and physical therapist. “She worked at TherAplay for 14 years, so she was just a legacy here.”
On Nov. 14, many families impacted by Grillo brought cards, flowers and photographs to TherAplay to honor her memory.
“It’s a beautiful tribute,” said Shannon Wade, TherAplay marketing programs manager. “It’s breathtaking.”
The outpouring of support continued throughout the day on the TherAplay Facebook page, as current and former TherAplay clients shared memories of Grillo.
“Shortly after birth, experts told us our son may never walk. And whenever I remember that, I always think of Jen with Bailey around 2 years old. She was able to get him to stand on his horse as they went around the stable,” wrote Ryan Forbes of Carmel. “Fourteen years old now, Bailey walks with minimal issues. Such a good therapist and a better person, I’ll always remember her as someone who truly cared about our son.”
TherAplay Executive Director Hillary McCarley had a similar experience with Grillo as she worked with her son, Michael.
“Hillary was told Michael would never walk, never talk, never do this or that, and that didn’t matter to Jen,” Wade said. “Michael army-crawled in (to TherAplay) and several years later he walked out.”
TherAplay invited members of the community to visit the facility Nov. 15 for a celebration of Grillo’s life. Approximately 300 guests donned their favorite boots, blue jeans and flannel as they shared memories of Grillo, as she was a big supporter of TherAplay’s annual Hoe-Down event.
“Jen loved the Hoe-Down. It resonated with her,” Keathley said. “She would not want us showing up in black and being all somber. We thought we would wear our boots and our plaid and do this in a style that would make her so happy.”
Grillo’s funeral was held later in her home state of Illinois. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers donations be made to TherAplay.
The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office responded to a two-vehicle crash at 8 a.m. Nov. 12 at Ind. 32 and Gray Road.
Deputies determined a 2014 GMC Sierra was travelling east on Ind. 32 and disregarded a red traffic light, colliding into a 2011 Honda Accord driven by Jen Grillo travelling north in the intersection.
The driver of the GMC Sierra, John D. Miller, 68, of Westfield said the sun glared into his eyes and he was unable to see the traffic light color and the car in the intersection. Grillo was pronounced dead at the scene.