Boy helps friend communicate with computer program

LED board built by Jacob Smilg helps Ethan Kadish communicate (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (Sydney Benter) - Being able to communicate or even answer a simple yes or no question is something most of us take for granted.

For people like Ethan Kadish, though, the words won't come. Now thanks to a buddy with a knack for computer programming he's getting his voice back.

Lots of 13-year-old boys rush home from school to go outside and play ball. Not Jacob Smilg. He's into programming and coding. His projects are usually just for fun. That all changed when he realized his skills might be able to help family friend Ethan Kadish. Ethan suffered a brain injury when he was struck by lightning in 2013.

"They do different exercises with him, when they're not at school they're in PT, they're in OT, they're in speech therapy, they're doing holistic therapies, anything and everything to have Ethan come back. And something's working," says Jen Smilg, Jacob's mom.

In the blink of an eye came a glimmer of hope. In October Ethan started answering questions by blinking.

It's a small movement but a major breakthrough for the family, and it gave Jacob an idea.

He repurposed a school project and rigged it so that Ethan could communicate in a whole new way.

"The display would change from the Y and the N that's currently on the screen to a yes or a no depending on which button that he would press," says Jacob.

Surrounded by friends and family on Thanksgiving, Ethan gave them one more thing to be thankful for. He answered questions using Jacob's program.

This is the most Ethan has been able to communicate with his family since the accident. All thanks to a bright friend with a big heart.

"Beyond words proud of what my son has done and his programming is not just in the bedroom anymore, it's not just tinkering in the house, he's actually created something that can help non-verbal children communicate," says Smilg.

It costs the Kadish family $100,000 a year to care for Ethan. There's a benefit on December 13 for his medical expense fund.

You can find details on the fundraiser on

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