Jay McKeon beat the odds after a car collision in 1985 left him in a coma for two months and unable to speak for a year and a half.
The Scottsdale man has regained his speech and now moves around in his motorized wheelchair.
He also volunteers at a hospital and at a historical museum and serves as an advocate for the disabled.
"He certainly lives his life to the fullest of his ability," said Dixie Melkus, volunteer supervisor at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn hospital, where McKeon has served 661 hours since May 2002.
McKeon, 41, was chosen as a 2004 Frances Young Unsung Community Heroes award winner and will be honored with five others Thursday. Community volunteer Lisa Haskell nominated McKeon for the award after meeting him through a gardening project at Infinia at Scottsdale, the nursing home where he lives.
"Being in a nursing home can be very depressing," Haskell said. "The fact that Jay wants to participate and get involved (in volunteering), that was really amazing to me."
McKeon was 22 years old on Nov. 16, 1985, the day his life changed. While driving on Bell Road near 32nd Street in Phoenix, he was rear-ended by another driver; the impact pushed his car into oncoming traffic, and he was broadsided by a truck, said his father, Bob McKeon.
McKeon suffered a serious brain injury that left him with "severe short-term memory problems and no organizational skills," his father said.
Soon after moving to Infinia in 1996, Jay became involved in resident leadership as Resident Council president — a position he still holds today.
"He’s an excellent advocate for the residents," said Larry Gordon, head of social services and admissions at Infinia. "If he sees something that needs attention, he lets the staff know."
McKeon began volunteering as a way to stay busy after finishing his associate’s degree in general studies from Scottsdale Community College in May 2002.
"I didn’t have any headhunters beating on my door offering to hire me," he joked. "So I thought, why not volunteer at the hospital?"
McKeon is dedicated and loyal, Melkus said. "He works from the information desk, greets people and escorts them to where they have an appointment." McKeon also delivers flowers to patients’ rooms.
McKeon has also served as a docent at Scottsdale Historical Museum. "He is eager to go out into the community and to help in whatever way he can," said museum manager Jo Ann Handley.
McKeon said his next goal in life is to work toward a bachelor’s degree.