My name is Katy Blake, I’m 25 years old and I live in Pascagoula, Mississippi. On June 13, 2010, while on a canoe trip with a large group of friends on Little Black Creek in Hattiesburg, MS, a friend and I were horse-playing on the sandbar when he suddenly spit on me. Instinctively, I immediately began running to the water to jump in and wash off. As soon as I dove, I realized it was too shallow, but it was too late. I hit bottom and remained conscious the whole time while my body went instantly numb and lifeless. I lay face down in the water for what seemed like an eternity before the same friend pulled me out. I immediately told them that something was wrong and to get me to the sandbar. Although my exterior was calm and collected, on the inside I was panicking and thinking, “I cannot be paralyzed- I cannot handle this. What will my family do?” After a helicopter got me to Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, it was determined that I fractured my C-5 vertebrae and would be paralyzed. I am now an incomplete quadriplegic. Doctors originally thought I would not move past my shoulders and although I damaged my C-5, I still have full sensation, use of my biceps and forearms, wrist extension and flexion, upper abdominals, and beginning to have leg muscles fire off. From that moment, I did not listen to doctors about my prognosis and I am still determined to exceed every expectation in regards to my recovery. This has been my challenge since then.
While in the hospital, I encountered many setbacks: I stayed in ICU for a month and a half on a ventilator with pneumonia in my left lung: had a stage 3 pressure sore on my tailbone, which eventually led me to prolong my stay to nearly 3 months; various respiratory problems such as a Code Blue called on me after I struggled to breathe, which as a result, put me back in ICU on a ventilator for two more weeks; and a leaking feeding tube which led to an emergency surgery and 11 staples above my belly button, that unfortunately slightly split back open after surgery. It was a constant two steps forward, three steps back. Despite the struggles, I never let it get me down or stop me from working to regain any possible movement, sensation, or function. I eagerly participated in as much physical therapy and occupational therapy as possible and never stop moving as much as I could, hoping that I would regain muscles back in my arms.
The hardest part of my recovery has not been the physical therapy itself, but the financial means to get it. I had private insurance all my life until 10 months prior to my accident. After my injury, I received Mississippi Medicaid. I spent three difficult months at the hospital because of a pressure sore and afterwards, was sent to Mississippi Methodist Rehab Hospital in Jackson, MS. Medicaid was only willing to pay for two weeks of therapy for what was called “The Care-Giver Program.” The focus of these two weeks were to teach my mother, my primary caregiver, on how to take care of me. Gratefully, Mississippi Vocational Rehab paid for another two weeks, extending my stay for a full month. In 30 days, I was expected to learn how to cope with a lifetime of disability.
After returning home alone with my retired mother to the Gulf Coast, nearly 4 hours away from the only spinal cord injury facility in Mississippi, we were on our own. Although I began outpatient therapy at my local hospital, they lacked the equipment and therapists to treat somebody with a spinal cord injury. When I tried to go through government and state agencies to get financial assistance for additional specialized rehab, I was repeatedly denied. At one point, I was denied Mississippi Medicaid for three months, which stopped all outpatient therapy and left me paying full price for all my prescriptions, doctor’s appointments, etc. I have also had a difficult time with my power wheelchair. It does not fit properly and because of that I’ve developed severe scoliosis, which is hindering my goal to be independent as well as poses health risks. Instead of moving forward, I was being pushed back. I was constantly frustrated by my lack of resources, which meant lack of progress. I could no longer sit back and watch as life passed before my eyes but yet I remained the same. I knew I had to get back to inpatient rehab one way or another, no matter what it took. I had enough.
In April 2011, after 10 months of setbacks, struggles, denials, and disappointments, I began Help Katy Back to Rehab on Facebook. In today’s society, social media can change and impact lives like never before seen. I thought if enough people, or the right person, somehow heard about my plight, that they could possibly help; and it became bigger than I ever imagined. That was when my new life really began and my new job, raising funds for rehab, specifically the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia, blossomed. I became my own self advocate, an entrepreneur, an artist, and a writer. Since that time, with the help of family, friends, and a wonderful community, I have had multiple benefits, two major T-shirt fundraisers (selling over 2100 shirts nationwide), was the recipient of a large benefit, called the Charity Bowl, by the Sigma Nu chapter at Ole Miss College in March 2012, and very recently began selling my artwork.
What an amazing journey it has been since creating Help Katy Back to Rehab. With roughly 3,300 followers, it has put happiness and hope back into my life and for society in general. I have met the nicest, most caring people who are inspired by me as much as I’m inspired by them. We were also able to do multiple fundraisers to raise enough money for me to attend additional rehab at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA, a top spinal cord facility in the US.
This is just the beginning. I truly believe I can once again lead an independent life and even walk again if I have the right therapy and medical care because I definitely have the drive, faith, willpower, and motivation to go further than the doctors ever would have imagined. And even if I am unable to walk again, I fully intend to have an independent, happy and fulfilled life, even without hand function, chair or no chair. But as they say, Rome was not built in a day.
I’m beginning to speak to children in school about spinal cord injury, safety, and motivation- to never give up and never give in. I also blog about my experiences to help raise awareness and increase knowledge on spinal cord injuries and what it entails , whether it be physical or mental. I feel as if I meant to share my story to help either prevent an accident, educate about treating people with disabilities as equals, or help inspire and encourage others to live their life to the fullest. My injury is not a tragedy, it was a blessing in disguise. Though I may have lost some movement and function, I can still think independently with my mind and love with my all my heart- things that truly matter in life. So much good has come from my accident that I do not live in remorse or bitterness. I live a new kind of normal but I’m still the same person I always was… Perhaps a little wiser. My spiritual faith has never been stronger. Miracles happen every day but you have to believe, and you have to work hard.
I am also organizing and coordinating different fundraisers to help raise more money to help with the high cost of living with this injury. You can check out my artwork that will eventually be for sale at the menu at the top or be sure and check the main page for important updates.
If you’re curious to see previous tv, newspaper, and radio interviews, please check out Media at the menu at the top. Through there you can also find my YouTube channel and the first, original journal/blog documenting my recovery.
I want to thank you again for reading my story and would sincerely appreciate you taking a moment to help spread the word by sharing this on your own Facebook page, email to others, twitter, or by word of mouth. You never know who you may reach and who may be able to help. I ask each of you reading this to please help me in spreading the word of my story. In less than 60 seconds, by simply sharing my page to others, perhaps more people will read about my determination to recover and hopefully reach enough recognition so that I may receive more help. The power of Facebook and online media in today’s society is an amazing tool to spread the word of a great cause. I’m not looking for a handout, I’m looking for a hand up. I graciously thank you for your support in helping me achieve my dreams, which is to regain as much function as possible, be an independent and functional member of society, and to try and walk again. God bless.