A Monkey’s Helping Hands – Interview with Ned Sullivan and Ellen Rogers

A Monkey’s Helping Hands – Interview with Ned Sullivan and Ellen Rogers

I’m so pleased to present to you a double-whammy interview – mother and son.  And their adorable little helper.

Ned Sullivan lives his life facing numerous challenges in the most high-spirited and upbeat manner.  Eight years ago he was in a near fatal car accident that left him paralyzed.  He has been rebuilding his life with the incredible help of a capuchin monkey named Kasey.  Together they work and play.

“I’m happy to help out any way I can.  I think I have a lot to offer people.”  Ned Sullivan

How does Kasey help make your life better?

I’ve had Kasey for about 7 years.  I’m 30 now.  I was injured at the age of 22.  When I was 23, Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled donated Kasey to us.  That was after an extensive application and after a year being home.  I was in the hospital for a year and I was home for a year before I got Kasey.  It had been 2 years where I had been in a place where there was a lot of medication, I was constantly confused.  I had a bad injury – quadriplegic.  Moving forward we decided to get a monkey to inject some positivity into Ned’s life.(chuckle)  At the time my comprehension was only so-so.  I’ve come a long way since then.

What does Kasey do for you day-to-day?

When I got her I couldn’t do much in terms of moving my muscles.  She did practical things at that time.    She knew I couldn’t do things for myself.  She’s very smart like that and is able to see who’s in the room, who’s helping Ned, what’s my job, what’s my reward.  With such a strong animal/human bond, they often don’t need a reward.  They do it out of love.  In the beginning, you needed to ask her.  Now, it’s almost like she’s able to read my mind.  If I’m exiting or entering a room, she flips on and off the lights.  She opens the door.  If I drop my magazine, she gets it for me.  But this is almost 7 years now.  They were trained to remove or fetch from a laser light.  I point to a towel on the ground and she’ll stop what she’s doing and get the towel.  She knows what that red light reflecting on something means for her.

What has given you the strength to move on and be so positive? 

My attitude.   If you have the right attitude, you can conquer anything.  I turn to different things to help reshape my attitude.  If I’m having a downer day, I try to keep positive because I know it will carry out into what I do.  I learned this way before my injury.   After a certain amount of time I can regroup within myself.  That’s not to say Kasey is not a huge help because she is.  Her presence is a lift of positive energy. 

I like to look at it as one day at a time.  I try to build day by day and make a positive action that will help me looking forward.

What advice can you give people going through difficult times?

I would say to try to do your best.  Don’t ever become a victim.  It’s really low.  I came across a quote that I put away in a file:

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”  (by John Wooden)

It all starts with attitude.  If you remain positive you will find it easier to not continuously fall into the trap of being a victim.  I was lucky enough to enter the situation where I had this positivity inside me.

Having a strong support system, whether you were injured or  going through a drug addiction or just down, makes a huge difference.  And it will continue to make an enormous difference going forward.

Being able to make a difference in other’s lives is extremely worthwhile.   When feeling down, helping people is always a way to help yourself.


Now meet Ellen Rogers, Ned’s mom.  She has kept her family together through all too many adversities, Ned’s being the focus here of her indomitable resilience.  She is the author of the book, Kasey to the Rescue. 

“I’m always looking for new ways for him to be challenged and to grab onto things that he can get excited about.”

What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

Let’s start with the fact that Ned didn’t die.  That’s how I begin with anything.  This is the most wonderful part even though he was so badly injured.  As long as he stayed alive, we were making some progress.

I was very lucky because I had been in business for a long time.  I had been a marketing executive for 25 years at many large high-tech and start-up successful companies.  I had established a lot of business skills.  I realized as I was facing each challenge with Ned  that much of my ability to move him forward  with the insurance, doctors, treatment and all that, came from my good and fine-tuned problem solving, resourcefulness and ability to manage complex tasks that were from my business world.   Was I born that way?  I don’t know.  But these skills were very important in business as they got me to where I was, and I realized that those were the key elements of how I was able to keep going with Ned.

Most people when confronted with a crisis don’t necessarily have business experience.  All of these things – creative problem-solving, resourcefulness, a keen ability to manage complex tasks- are within each one of us.  You have to believe that you can do these things.  When you’re overcome with sadness and fear and you don’t know what you’re going to do because your loved one is so badly hurt or has cancer, your vision and ability to harness your own internal capabilities are severely compromised as well.  Your vision is clouded.  You can’t see opportunities.  It’s almost impossible when you’re so dragged down into the horror of whatever you’re doing to be able to see any hope or opportunity.  Opportunity is what you have to be resourceful with and you have to be creative to solve problems and be able to grab onto hope.  You may not even realize the opportunities at the moment.

I believe that every one of us has these capabilities.  You have to dig deep and you have to believe somewhere in your heart, in your soul, that you do have them.  Because if you don’t believe that you do, then you can’t access them.   Whenever I talk to groups I say the same thing.  I’m not the lone ranger here.  Every single person in the audience has his own personal challenge- business, personal, family.  You don’t just lay on the ground and roll over.  You pick yourself up because at the end of the day, you have to face it.  Some people do it with greater difficulty than others.  People have to get up and put one foot in front of the other.  Especially if you’re a single parent like I am.

What thoughts and strategies kept you going?

In my marketing days, we had to help our sales forces with what we called overcoming the noWe had to come up with how to ‘overcome the no’ in sales.  It was not a whole lot different with Ned than when I would hear, “no we can’t do that” or a no from the insurance company or case manager.

I learned to keep moving forward.  A famous motto of one of my CEOs was to ask permission is to seek denialHe was a very bold guy and we were all encouraged to be risk takers and to be bold and to move forward even at some amount of peril.  Because to ask permission would be to seek denial.  That was another motto I never thought I’d use in this case.  Whether it was needing to use the cell phone when it said no cell phone or needing to push the case managers more when they said “no” to Ned having another two weeks of therapy, I just kept going.

Did you go through a period of self-pity?

I have my ‘woe is me, wow this is really awful’ but I have as few moments as I can of that because it’s not productive.  And then I go, ‘O.K. I can do it.’

It’s so useless to do the self-pity because there’s no positive outcome to it.  We’re a family of non-victim people.  At the end of the day, there’s me and me and me.  I’ve got to earn the money, pay the bills, take care of Ned and make sure he’s going to be taken care of in the long run, and I have 4 other children and 2 grandchildren now.   I have to do the best to manage things so we can all have the best possible opportunities.  This is my job.  It keeps me focused.

You’ve unfortunately had so many losses to deal with. 

I have and that’s point number two after the business stuff.  I’ve unfortunately had a lot of experiences with family tragedies.  It’s helped me {as well as my children} in navigating the medical and hospital world.

My feeling at the end of the day is, what else is there to do but to try to be positive.  I find being negative and worrying zaps me; it takes away energy from doing something positive.  If I’m wringing my hands, and believe me I’ve done my share, and when I’m sad, I let myself be really sad and allow that,  but I can’t let it consume me.  It’s hard to get out of that.  It becomes a vicious cycle. You become more and more depressed.  I’m not saying that everybody should be able to snap their fingers and get out of it.   A psychiatrist working with my daughter after my divorce (when she was about 8) drew a picture of a spiral.  She had been describing to him what it felt like – that she was being pulled down into it.  He then drew a staircase and told her she can climb up the stairs one at a time to get out.

I have used this visual a million times.  You have to go up one step at a time to get out of that vortex;  otherwise it will suck you in.

How about a little Monkey business?

The monkey, Kasey,  we haven’t even talked about her.  Her devotion, intelligence and loyalty is astounding.  As a result of the relationship, I’ve become very involved with the organization that trains the them, Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled.   It is like having another child, a 3 year old.  But she brings me a lot of personal enjoyment.  She makes me laugh.  We’ve had her almost 7 years now.  (More on this from Ned)

What advice can you offer people going through difficult challenges?

Resiliency is a core trait.  It’s there.  All of us have it. It’s part of who we are as human beings.  Finding it, nurturing it, fanning it and utilizing it to your advantage is a lot harder.  As I said earlier, what choice do we have.  We look at the situation and you say, “this is what needs to be done and I will find a way.”  Then we can go back to that stairway.  It’s going to be really hard but let me take the first step out of this trap and go up the next one, knowing you’re going to tumble.  I think people confronting long cancer deaths, it’s a big challenge because the end doesn’t look good. Trying to keep yourself buoyant during a long haul is very hard.  If you’re not going to do it for yourself, you do it for the ones you love, you help them.


Thank you for stopping by.  Love to read your comments here.  Please share this interview- after all how many people know about monkey helpers?! 



And take a few minutes to watch these fascinating videos.

Utube of Ned and Kasey

Utube of Ellen




4 thoughts on “A Monkey’s Helping Hands – Interview with Ned Sullivan and Ellen Rogers

  1. Elle says:

    Wonderful and uplifting interview. Talk about courage and grace in action Harriet. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve never heard of monkeys being available in this way. Still there’s lots of things I haven’t heard about.

    So I’m grateful to you for bringing this to my attention.


    1. Hi Elle,
      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, grace is a good word here. Glad you liked this interview.
      There’s so much to learn in our huge world – fascinating stuff.

  2. Penina says:

    Great double-interview. So interesting to hear from 2 different minds about the same situation.

    1. Hi Penina,
      Yes, I loved having the opportunity to talk to both and hear each one’s perspective. You can see how the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree with Ned’s attitude of ‘no victim’ mentality being like his mom’s. Glad you liked it. Thanks for coming by and sharing.

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