"If you're going through Hell, keep going."
-Winston Churchill

Jun 16, 2011

My first year

This past Monday, June 13, was the one year anniversary of my accident. At the last minute I decided to throw a party to celebrate my “gimp birthday.” People who know me well, or at least people who see my Facebook updates, were not at all surprised that I decided to celebrate this. Like my mother said, it is a celebration of the first year of my new life. Because I had such short notice in planning the party, I was not able to get a lot of things I would’ve really liked: a piñata of someone in a wheelchair; creating a spinoff of pin the tail on the donkey- put the neck brace on the gimp; and a cake with the no diving sign. Despite this, and only giving a 24-hour notice, I had a good turnout and we had a great time.

I am very thankful for friends, family and fans who have been so supportive and have helped me cope through the first year of my injury. I cannot believe it has already been a year, it has gone by so extremely fast! Of course, four of the 12 months were spent in the hospital, but it feels like just yesterday I was getting home from Methodist. Emotionally, I know this must be the toughest year to handle. I will not lie and say it has been easy, it hasn‘t. This past weekend was definitely tough, thinking of my life a year prior. For the most part, I keep a positive and humorous attitude, but I am not super woman. I have my weak moments and sometimes when I really think about the accident, I cry. Even typing this blog is making me tear up. I think about the moment it happened, when I was face down in the water, unable to move and thinking I was going to drown. It is, without a doubt, the scariest moment of my life. It is unreal to think of how easily I could have died that day. After I was pulled out, I kept exclaiming to my best friend, “I cannot be paralyzed!” I don’t know how I kept my cool on the exterior when on the inside I was frantic and panicking. Although she tried to calm me down, suggesting that perhaps it was just a pinched nerve, I knew it was more. I thought my life was over. I did not think I had the strength emotionally to cope with this disability… Boy was I wrong.  I could not fathom what my new life was going to be like. I had no idea what a blessing in disguise this would really be.

The first two weeks in the hospital I was on a drug called Versed which does not allow you to make memories. Although I was conscious, I do not recall much of the first two weeks. I do remember shortly after the accident, when doctors predicted that I would have no movement passed my biceps, I immediately decided I would not listen. At first the only movement I could do was a “chicken wing” type of movement. I can’t imagine how silly I looked, but that never stopped me from trying to move my arms. Before long, I was able to stretch out my right arm. My right side is definitely my dominant side and has progressed much further and quicker than my left side. I remember laying in the ICU, unable to talk, watching the same movies over and over, and religiously moving my arms as much as possible for hours on end. When the accident first happened, I could not feel or move anything below my neck. A month later, after I was told I would have nothing pass my biceps, I was moving my arms more than they thought I would. Now here I am, a year later, and I just got a manual chair that I am able to push myself around in. I can’t go very quick, or very far without feeling the burn, but it is more than was ever expected of me. Sometimes it is hard to tell how much improvement I have really made, then I take in consideration that when I came home in a manual chair from Methodist eight months ago, I was unable to push myself. It just goes to show that while day-to-day you might not notice the progress, but in the long run hard work and determination really does pay off.
People probably think I’m crazy when I say this accident was a blessing in disguise. While I’ve always believed in God, I am not an overly religious person. Growing up, I couldn’t understand why I had to deal with so many hardships, I felt like it wasn’t “fair.” Little did I know, those obstacles were making me stronger and preparing me for the greatest challenge of my life. I do believe the accident was God intervening in my life. Prior to June 13, 2010, I was going nowhere fast. I was financially stressed, in debt and living from shift to shift; I was constantly putting off getting back into school because of finances and uncertainty of what to do with my life; and apparently I was in an unhealthy relationship. To be honest, and you may think I’m crazy, I always felt like something ‘drastic’ would happen to me. Growing up, it seemed like I was the only one in my group of friends who could not figure out what to do with my life. I had often times wondered if I could not figure out my future because something tragic would happen to me. Since the accident, I have decided I want to work with people who have disabilities. Had it not been for the accident, I would never have come to this decision and would probably still be living shift to shift with no real direction. Had it not been for the accident, I would still be in a relationship that I apparently was not meant to be in. Had it not been for the accident, I would not have realized my own inner strength and the impact I can have on other people. Because of the accident, I have made many new and lifelong friends while at the same time coming to the realization of who my real friends are and people who were only my friend because it benefited them in some way. Because of the accident, I have a new role as being inspiration to people, something I do not take lightly nor try to take advantage of. Because of the accident, I have become much closer to my family and to God. Because of the accident, I am stronger and better version of myself. I learned that who I am is not based on my disability, whether I walk again or not, I am still Katy and no one can take that from me.

There have been many pros and cons stemming from my accident, but I do not dwell on the cons. Why? Because it does absolutely no good. There is no back button in life. You cannot change what has already happened, you can only control how you deal with it. If you are busy living in the past, you’ll miss out on great things happening in the present. Your attitude can really change everything about a situation. I know it is cliché, but when life hands you lemons, you must learn to make lemonade (I like to add a shot of vodka in there, too). I mean, really, what else can you do? Also, there is no use crying over spilled milk. Just clean up the mess and keep going. If I had spent last year dwelling on all the cons stemming from my accident, I would have missed out on so many great opportunities and I would not be this far into my recovery. We all have the power to make a positive change in our life. Sometimes, having a positive attitude is really just about perspective. There are very few times when things cannot be much worse. Even in my situation, I realize how lucky I am not to have a brain injury, to have a higher injury (C1-C4), or to have a complete injury. Sure, an incomplete C5 injury is bad, but it could be worse- I could be dead. How can I be upset when there are people who have it much worse? When things seem bad, it really does help to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and you will realize, it could always be worse. Be thankful for what you have, because it can all change in an instant.

So in addition to the excitement of getting my manual chair this week, I have other exciting news. Sometime in July, I should finally be getting placed on the SCI Medicaid Waiver program. Even though I automatically qualify, I had to specifically call and request to be placed on a waiting list back in April. With the Waiver program, I will be allowed to hire a personal care attendant (PCA). This will be great because it will give my mom a break from the 24 hour job of taking care of me. Once I move away and get into school, a PCA will be crucial to my independence. Another exciting thing about the Waiver program is it will allow me to receive full Medicaid benefits. With full Medicaid benefits, I am allotted another 30 days of in-hospital care. Since I do not plan on being in the hospital for an extended period of time, I plan on using these 30 days to go back to Methodist Rehab. Unlike The Shepherd Center, Methodist provides 24 hour nursing care, so when I go I am not going to have my mother come with me. She has been by my side since the night of the accident, not only will this allow her to have a break, but will also help me relearn my independence. I will use the money raised from the fundraisers and donations to attend the Day Program at The Shepherd Center. The Day Program consists of therapy Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm. While attending the Day Program, Shepherd provides free housing but that does not include meals, nursing care, etc., therefore, my mom will have to stay with me the entire time. The Shepherd Center has been my dream rehab from the start, it is one of the top rehabilitation centers in the country. I am also in the process of filling out paperwork to be placed in the database at Frazier Rehab in Louisville, KY, to see if I’m eligible candidate for any future research studies. Please keep me in your prayers that I meet the criteria to participate in a research project.

We had our Southern Belle T-shirt distribution this past Friday. It was a great success and I was so happy that I could be there to see and express my gratitude to everyone who bought and sold shirts. We’re doing our final order, which will end on June 26. You can find all the information and order forms here. You are not just buying the shirt, you are changing a life!  We also have the River Run coming up in less than a month. Tickets are now on sale, you can purchase them from any of the participating fishing camps or from my sister, Kristen, who is selling them at Hinman Chiropractic. 

One final thing I would like to mention is Father’s Day, which is coming up Sunday. It has been 13 years since my Dad passed away, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. I relish in knowing that he would be so proud of my attitude and how proactive I am in my recovery. I have no doubt that he is my angel and has been watching over me all these years, especially this last year. He was such a fantastic man who always put his family first. I look forward to the day I get to see him again. If you are still lucky enough to have your father in your life, be sure to appreciate and celebrate it every day, not just on Father’s Day.

Jun 7, 2011

Roller Coaster Ride

The last 24 hours has been truly been a roller coaster ride. Since I know there are those that follow me on here that are not on Facebook, please allow me to fill you in. Last week I was contacted by someone in the marketing department of Facebook. They came across Help Katy Back to Rehab and were very interested in helping by sharing my story on a Facebook page called “Best of Facebook Stories.” I, of course, was very excited and honored to do so. I understand that since my injury I have a new role as someone people look up to. Sometimes I laugh to myself when I think about it, I really don’t think I’m anything special and I am just handling the situation the only way I know how. Nonetheless, I feel very blessed to be able to be an inspiration and it is something I do not take lightly or try to take advantage of. I’d like to think people can relate to me because just barely over a year ago, I was like everyone else with no disabilities living their life. I lived on my own, held a job for years as a waitress, had a serious boyfriend, hung out with great friends and looked forward to getting back into school. Just your typical 24-year-old woman harmlessly minding her own business and in an instant everything changed. Back to the subject at hand, I was contacted on the evening of June 3rd; the next morning I immediately got on the computer and typed up my story. There are so many different components to my story that it is difficult to type it out, the most detailed account would be this blog entry - We must be the change we want to see in the world - I was so excited about my story being featured on “Best of Facebook Stories” since they have nearly 62,000 followers. Then I discovered they also shared my story on another Facebook page called “Non-Profits on Facebook.” WOW, I thought… This page has only 448,000 followers!!! By this point, my phone was blowing up with Facebook notifications. So many genuine messages of sweet words of support and encouragement, tons of friend requests by people who were inspired by me, and the Help Katy to Rehab page instantly started jumping up in numbers. In a brief moment of senselessness, I decided to add anyone who requested me. I figured what harm could it do. I was so giddy I was beside myself, I think my upper body even tried to jump out of bed! How could this go wrong? My story of overcoming the odds with a positive attitude was being spread to hundreds of thousands of people; after all, the whole purpose of the page was to spread awareness and gain recognition. My roller coaster was slowly coasting to the top.

So many people were reaching out and I was trying my best to respond to each one because I was truly touched by all the support I was getting. That is when things started turned sour. I was informed that somebody “liked” my Facebook page, Katy Blake- Public Figure. The problem with this was that I had not created that page and did not know who did. My roller coaster had a quick and drastic drop. Right away I went into panic mode. I immediately “liked” myself (kind of funny to say) and posted on “my” wall that I had not created that page or knew who was behind it. Within a minute, my post was deleted and I was blocked from leaving any further comments. That was when “Katyland Security Advisory System” went off the charts. It is like when you have your car or your house broken into, you feel violated that somebody else has invaded your personal space. I felt sick knowing someone else was impersonating me and talking to people posing as me. Very, very bad went to much, much worse when I thought about the fact that they could use my story to scam people for money. I was in a full-blown level 10 freak out mode. Luckily, I made friends with the girl who contacted me from Facebook marketing. I told her the situation and asked if there’s anything she could do to help have it deleted. At the same time, I posted a link to it on my personal Facebook and my friends and family wasted no time in reporting it as being a fake profile. By 11 PM it was deleted.

It was not an hour later that another fake profile was created. This time, however, it was an actual personal profile. By this point, I had accepted nearly 200 people as friends without a fleeting thought. But this new fake profile had personal information that one can only access if they were on my friends list on MY Facebook. Now I knew that whoever was behind this had befriended me and I had no clue who it was. They had my education information, birthday, hometown, likes and interest, and used my profile picture. I tried to befriend “myself” and informed whoever it was that they had already been reported and that the page was going to be deleted. They, of course, did not respond. I contacted my new friend who works at Facebook and explained that it had happened again. It was getting close to midnight and all she could do was tell me that it would have to wait until first thing in the morning, as everybody who works for Facebook was now off of work. By noon today, the fake profile was gone. Now I have four individual contacts who work at Facebook for any further inconveniences, definitely not a bad connection to have! To prevent another “Public Figure” page from being created, I went ahead and did so myself: Katy Blake Public Figure There is no purpose to this page except to direct people to the correct Help Katy Back to Rehab page and to prevent anyone else from trying to impersonate me.

One final thing that I discovered last night was that not only was my story published on “Best of Facebook Stories” and “Non-Profits on Facebook,” a combined total of 509,603 people, it had also been published on Facebook’s “Facebook” page, which at this exact moment has 44,733,051 followers. I think my heart skipped a beat, dropped to the pit of my stomach, and stopped all at the same time. 44,733,051!!??! That is absolutely insane! Let me briefly mention one great aspect that has come from creating the Help Katy Back to Rehab page- it has restored my faith in humanity. I think you can all understand where I’m coming from when I say this, but it seems like everywhere you turn, you are met with some disgusting and shocking act of another person. It could be at Walmart, it could be driving, it could be on Facebook, but really all you have to do is turn on the news. There is so much violence, hate, crude and lewd behavior in today’s society it is sickening. You have politicians that can’t keep it in their pants and mothers who murder their children (or vice versa) without a second thought. Sometimes you wonder what mankind is coming to and what ever happened to good morals?

Since creating my Facebook page, I have had hundreds, if not thousands, of people  reach out to me in support. People who never met me wanting to donate, participate in fundraisers, or just to say a prayer for me. There are so many wonderful stories and great people out there and it is a shame that society focuses more on scandal and negativity. Back to my original point, when I discovered my story had been shared on the official “Facebook” page, I just had to go check it out. The last time I looked, my story had received 3,241 comments. Now I can only imagine this was how a celebrity feels like with Perez Hilton or other celebrity gossip websites. You’re not sure you want to see what everybody says, but curiosity gets the best of you and you decide to look anyways. Needless to say, I saw a little bit of everything. And I do mean everything. All sorts of different languages, people looking for hot girls or hot guys, spammers, people complaining about game requests, a lot the mumbo-jumbo that had nothing to do with the story. But then there are also different kinds of comments that did relate the story. There were lots of people who commented that they were inspired, I touched their hearts, thanking me for sharing my story and that they were supporting me and praying for me. Then there are comments on the whole other side of the spectrum. I guess that is the beautiful and ugly thing about the Internet, especially Facebook. It is a free forum for anybody who has any sort of thought in their head to spew it out of their mouth. I think the most degrading comment I read was that I, “was beautiful but it’s too bad that now I am a cripple. Does her mouth still work?” I was flabbergasted! It is almost like I was punishing myself, because I kept reading more and more of the comments and was feeling so insulted and hurt. I finally had to stop. I wanted so badly to defend myself, but I knew better, it definitely would not do any good; in fact, it would probably only fuel the fire. As much as it bothers me, by the same token it does not even phase me. I am extremely fortunate to have a wonderful family, great friends, and a fantastic support system of people who have never even met me. I have overcome so much more than anybody expected and I am not going to let some stranger’s immature and inconsiderate comments slow me down. Like they say, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Except in my case, it was the bottom of the creek that broke my bones!

Whew, that was quite a lot to get off my chest. I told you it has been a crazy 24 hours! Despite all the craziness, there was a bit of really good news this morning. Before I woke up, Mom was contacted by the Frazier Rehab in Louisville, Kentucky. I made initial contact last week expressing interest in their Spinal Cord Injury Research Program. For those who do not know, this is where they made a significant breakthrough in the recovery of paralysis a few weeks ago:Paraplegic man stands on own and walks with assistance. So, needless to say, it is a fantastic facility and I would be thrilled and honored to go there. I am waiting on paperwork that I will fill out and return and then wait to hear back. Please keep me in your prayers as I hope to be eligible to be a research candidate.

The Southern Belle fundraiser has also been going well. We received the second batch of orders last week, which was sooner than we expected, considering this order has roughly 1,050 shirts. We will be having a distribution this Friday, June 10, from 3 PM- 6 PM at Hinman Chiropractic, located on Market Street in Pascagoula. Please understand it is nearly impossible to accommodate every body in regards to finding a time to distribute. If you are unable to make it this Friday, the shirts will be available anytime after this weekend at Hinman Chiropractic, Monday-Thursday between 9 AM-5 PM (not available between 12-1:30). If you are unable to come during those times, please contact me at katy.blake@ymail.com and we will set up a special arrangement. If you are having your shirts shipped, they will be sent Saturday morning, June 11. If you have not ordered a shirt and would like to, please visit http://www.rehabforkaty.formyfriends.org/tshirt.html for all the information and order forms. Deadline is June 26 and this will more than likely be our final order. You’re not just buying a T-shirt, you’re helping to change a life!

I hope this blog was not too scattered like my mind has been all day. I really enjoy writing these blogs and really appreciate those who take the time to read them. I cannot believe the 13th will be my one year anniversary of my injury. No one believes me when I tell them I want to have a swimming party! What can I say, that’s just the kind of person I am! God bless you all!!