When a well-known couple in the waterman community suffers a life-changing accident, the Eastern Shore of Virginia—and the Bay at large—rallies around them without hesitation.
Kenny Heath, 59, is a respected fourth-generation waterman in Townsend, Va. who tears up boat-docking competitions. His wife, Linda, organizes the competitions and helps run the family business.
Everything changed for the Heaths last month when they were in a serious motorcycle accident on I-95 just north of Savannah, Ga. Experienced bikers who ride hundred-mile days on their trips, the Heaths were returning to Virginia from Daytona Beach “Biketoberfest” when their bike crashed into the right rear corner of a trailer being pulled by a truck, according to police reports. Kenny had to be flown by Medevac to the hospital while Linda was rushed there by ambulance. In the end, Kenny and Linda fought for their lives in the ICU and each had a leg amputated.
Family friend Jon Dempster happened to be on his honeymoon in Savannah and immediately went to Kenny and Linda’s side, while the Heaths’ son Thomas (a fifth-generation waterman) and daughter Brooke made it there in eight hours.
Dempster owns the Cape Charles restaurant The Shanty, which buys seafood from Kenny and Thomas and also hosted the “Crab Slam” boat docking contest back in August. Linda Heath was pivotal in coordinating that competition.
Kenny is a serious competitor in the docking contests. “He’s one of the best boat docking captains and if he doesn’t win he’s usually pretty pissed,” Dempster tells us.
The captain of the Thomas Jaiden (named for his first two grandchildren) is a past member of the Chesapeake Cowboys docking tour group. As a waterman, Kenny has pound-netted all his life and crabs on and off and has a reputation for being one of the most hard-working in a profession where everyone is hard-working.
“These people live to be on the water,” Dempster tells us. “Everybody knows Kenny and Linda.”
Being on the water will be more complicated for Kenny as an amputee, and his boat will need to be adapted to allow him to operate it once he’s fitted with a prosthetic leg. Kenny and Linda will both need ramps and lifts to get into their home.
A GoFundMe page on behalf of the Heaths has grown to over $28,000. The largest single donation to date was from aquaculture operation Cherrystone Aqua Farms.
Billy Hill, a fellow boat-docking competitor in Nanticoke, Md., found a kind neighbor with a lift, wheelchairs and crutches to donate and delivered them to Virginia so the Heaths can access their home in the immediate future.
Kenny says he’s overwhelmed by all the support, not just from Northampton County, Va., but up the Eastern Shore from Hoopers Island to Crisfield to Tilghman Island. “I don’t know how I’ll ever thank everybody,” he says, choking up. “It’s an awesome ending to a tragedy through the love and support from everybody who stuck out their hand to help us.”
They’re currently in a rehab facility in Savannah, but are anxious to get back to Virginia where their three grandchildren, friends and pets are waiting. Transportation back home will require a Winnebago or other vehicle that can accommodate their injuries. Kenny is hopeful to be transferred home by the weekend. He’ll need to return to the hospital in five weeks to have a bone graft performed on his elbow.
Amid the complicated procedures he is undergoing, a major priority for Kenny is getting back to working as a waterman. When he was faced with the decision whether to have reconstructive surgery on his injured leg or to have it amputated, Kenny says, “I asked the doctors, ‘If I do the reconstruction surgery, will I be able to go out on the water and work? No? Then cut it off and give me a prosthetic.'”
As Kenny and Linda navigate their new reality of living with an amputated limb, they’ll look to each other for support. “We’ll be in the same boat together. We’ve been in the same boat together for 34 years.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano