This starts with the swimming star coming back from the dead, struggling bit by bit for nearly a decade.

The arm that won't straighten. The hand that won't open. The brain that keeps forgetting his left from his right.

Walking? Scott Conley labors with that, too, almost as if he must demand his left leg to move against its will with each step.

This starts with the Dallastown High swimmer who still holds records from all those years ago. The 30-something who keeps overcoming the kinds of things most people cannot imagine.

It starts with him.

But it turns out to be so much more.

Mostly, this is a love story. A tale of two people.

To survive, Conley needed the kind of overwhelming support he found in a woman who

was not bound to him by family or marriage. Someone who could have simply walked away.

But she couldn't go.

And now, almost a decade later, they're both still fighting.

"She's the reason why I'm still here," Conley said. "She saved my life.

"She's always saving my life."

* * *

There was a time when swimming meant everything.

Conley learned the sport to ease his severe asthma. The 1989 Dallastown graduate became so good that he broke every individual school record and earned a scholarship to the University of Arizona. The college freshman even made it to the NCAA Championships.

Something, though, suddenly meant even more.

That came after his older brother introduced him to Kim Shorter, a York College student at the time. Five years later they bought a house in northern Virginia, got engaged and were living a fast, fun life.

Conley was traveling the country with his medical software development job, finding time to lift weights and play tennis and run four or five miles at a time. He regularly swam laps in hotel pools. And he loved restoring his 1974 BMW, the one with the jaw-dropping midnight blue paint job and fancy exhaust - and no heat,

Shorter worked a big-money sales job and dragged him to live theater. And they both loved the funky restaurants and walking tours of Old Town Alexandria.

Then came Dec. 23, 1998.

Conley went to bed that night with a bad headache after spending the day moving into their new home. Forty-five minutes later he woke up screaming, his head pounding as if it was about to explode.

He couldn't even feel the pain medicine Shorter had just placed in his left hand.

He tried to stand up and fell against a window, hit the floor and began vomiting.

He was rushed to a hospital, then to another, then to a third. He had suffered a massive brain aneurysm.

Within hours - on Christmas Eve - the unthinkable came spilling out of a doctor's mouth: The 27-year-old man Shorter planned to marry had a 10-percent chance of living.

Ten percent.

She collapsed and sobbed in a hospital hallway. Her sister, mother and brother-in-law helped her up and she quickly collected herself, determined to never break down like that again.

She knew that wouldn't help any of them get through what waited ahead.

* * *

There were four brain surgeries in two weeks.

Before one of them - on New Year's Eve - doctors said they were losing him again. And Conley probably would have died right then if not for Shorter, who had alerted nurses to the signs of another brain bleed no else had noticed.


was typical Shorter, the perfectionist who will fight and nag whomever she must to get the necessary results. On that day, her daily flashlight check of Conley's eyes showed unresponsive pupils - a frightening warning sign when combined with a vomiting episode.

Soon enough, a neuro team rushed him off to surgery.

During yet another surgery, doctors removed a large chunk of his skull and put it on ice to give his damaged, swelling brain a chance to expand.

Even after all of that, the sickness and suffering still came in waves.

Meningitis. Pneumonia. Peritonitis (inflammation of the tissue that lines the stomach).

He was in a coma for nearly six months.

It was during that time that he could communicate only by moving his right thumb, wiggling it to say, 'Yes,' hiding it under his index finger to mean, 'No.'

Doctors told Shorter that even if Conley somehow pulled through, he would probably live the rest of his life in a nursing home. He would be lucky to roll himself over in bed to help others change his diaper.

But Shorter kept pushing.

She put her job on hold and lived for two months in the hospital waiting room, sleeping on couches and floors, spending 12 hours each day by his side. She planted herself in the ICU and studied his monitors, learning what every line and beep meant.

She dedicated herself to detailing his progress - how long he was sitting up in bed, how much he was chewing, how often he was opening his eyes - to keep insurance companies off their backs.

Sometimes people wondered why she ever stayed. She tells them, simply enough, that it was about love and commitment.

"If this had happened to me he would have stayed here for me," she said.

Others still marvel.

"Kim's an amazing person," said Dr. Andrew McCarthy, Conley's neurologist at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C. "So many times I see this happen, where the other person sticks around for a little bit and not much longer.

"What makes this so special is the relationship between Scott and Kim. We've gotten a lot of people better . . . but we've never had a patient get married like this."

* * *

In all, Conley was hospitalized for a year. His muscles spasmed so severely that he couldn't straighten his back or arms or legs - groaning in pain most every hour of the day and night. The left side of his body was nearly useless.

"He was in such pain during therapy that he would just yell and scream so much they'd have to shut his door to keep from bothering the other patients," Shorter said.

Even when he finally did come home, he lived in a hospital bed in the couple's living room. He could only eat thickened liquids for another year as his body slowly repaired.

He endured at least 16 surgeries through it all, took as many as nine medications at once.

He needed help to do just about anything.

So, of course, it was Shorter who rushed into the room to perform the Heimlich maneuver when he was finally able to eat solid food and was choking.

He took his first steps on his own 18 months after the aneurysm - and even then had to wear a helmet to protect against falls.

To think how far he has come . . .

Now, Conley takes care of himself during the day in their Manchester Township home off of Greenbriar Road while Shorter works full-time again. He walks staircases slowly, but at least he walks. His lack of short-term memory still frustrates him, but he's improving through daily computer work with cognitive rehabilitation software.

It took him three years to walk well enough to go to a store. It took him more than eight years to regain the strength and balance to get off the floor by himself.

His humor and persistence and sometimes even his anger still drive him, probably even harder than during his swimming days. He seems more open now with his thoughts and words, his quick wit often cracking up a room of friends.

"His case taught me so much," said Amy Georgeadis, a senior speech/language pathologist at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. "You learn in (medical) school that there are cutoffs for recovery, that pretty much how you are after a year or two is how you're going to be.

"Scott proved that wrong over and over again."

And though he still struggles to recapture his former life, Shorter is always there to protect and push and critique.

Always there to love.

The couple married in November 2005.

"She's been Scott's rock," said Iva Jean Conley, Scott's mother. "He is where he is today because of her, because of her strength, because of what she gave to him."

Mostly, Conley is a happy soul, fortunate just to have the chance to keep recovering.

He wants to go back to work some day.

He wants to run again.

He feels blessed to have Shorter.

"I'm here. I'm happy to be alive. I'm just happy she's here. She'll put up with me. She has enough stuff on her plate without having to do this or that for me. Men would kill to have a wife like her."

Shorter shrugs off such compliments, which come quite frequently.

If she is pressed on the matter, tears begin to form.

She pauses for a few moments.

"He doesn't have to thank me," she said, her voice cracking.

But he does. And they push on from one day to the next, the next almost always just a little better.

Their lives and goals intertwined in ways most couples cannot imagine.

Their love story still growing.; 771-2104

'I was the best person to help'

It was a tough question.

But I had to ask Kim Shorter why she stayed with her fiancee, who had suffered a major brain aneurysm and was in a coma for six months and recovering for years after.

She eventually married Scott Conley, the former Dallastown High swimming star.

And when I first asked her, she talked about staying by him because of love and commitment and because he'd do the same for her.

Then, a few months after our initial interview, she e-mailed another response. Here is an excerpt:

"From time to time, I have been thinking about the question you asked me -- 'Why did I stay with Scott through all this?' Wondering if there is some deep answer or something profound that I should have said. . . . I can tell you two things:

"1.) I love him, so of course, wanted the best outcome possible for him after he got sick -- not unlike anyone in a similar situation . . . and . . . 2.) I knew somehow that I was the best person to help him (recover). I am strong enough (mentally and otherwise) to take care of both of us during the very worst times and knew he needed my resourcefulness for the long haul. I can be a giant pain in the ass to people until I get the right answers for him.

"In your short experience with Scott, I am sure you have seen that he is driven enough for four people; he never lost his drive even with frontal lobe damage. I think it is in every fiber of him.

"So, together -- a disciplined athlete who can manage a ton of pain and a type-A perfectionist -- I'd like to think we have been a formidable team against this thing. Helping him in his battle back from this is the accomplishment I am most proud of in my life."