Sunday, June 26, 2011

Smile On, Katy!

Katy Stowe had the world by the tail. She was smart, popular, and just five days away from her high school graduation. With her straight-A report cards and various student leadership positions, the energetic teen had applied to and been accepted at Auburn University, where she would attend in the fall. 

And then, life changed.

I met Katy in the summer of 2003 while I was giving a series of talks about volunteer blood donation to elementary and high school kids in Alabama. She had been assigned to introduce me to each audience during a two-day visit with the American Red Cross. The first thing I noticed about her – now in her mid-20s – was her smile. The obvious love of life that came through that broad Julia Roberts grin was infectious, and I found myself smiling back at her even before we were introduced.

Secondary to her smile were the apparent signs of lingering health issues: the slow movements, the slight drag of her right foot, the hairless, waxy-looking scars above her neckline and below the short sleeves of her shirt, – suggestive of the type of adversity most of us will never encounter. Curiosity got the best of me and, between talks, I asked Katy about the circumstances that led to her scarring. Without hesitation, she shared the details of her near-miss with death eight years earlier: the car wreck on a rural road, the flames bursting through the floorboards, the jammed door locks that trapped her in the car, and her miraculous escape – despite having several broken ribs, a broken elbow and a lacerated kidney – through a half-open window.

Downplaying any suggestion of heroics on her part, she told me about the years of physical therapy, the dozens of post-hospitalization surgeries that took place to release built up scar tissue, and the numerous blood transfusions she had received – all a result of having been severely burned over more than 60 percent of her body. 

“The toughest part,” she admitted, “was that it felt like all my friends from high school had moved on with their perfect lives while I was struggling just to feel normal again.”

With patience, determination, and time, Katy had overcome the physical and emotional challenges of her accident and reclaimed her life. Graduating with honors from Auburn, she then chose to pursue a career that involved saving lives through blood donation, much in the same way her own had been saved.

I looked up to see the next group of high-school aged students filing into the auditorium for my talk. I looked back at Katy and knew that the story of how she came to be a blood recipient at an age when life was supposed to be full of promise would be much more effective than my own story of a “middle-aged” woman who almost died giving birth. I asked her if she would allow me to introduce her and if she would then share her own story with this audience. She demurred, but consented.

After making brief introductory remarks, I sat down as Katy limped out in front of the students. I watched the faces in the crowd shift from studied boredom – that look that only a 16-year-old on a field trip can master – to curiosity, as they scrutinized every exposed scar on Katy’s arms and neck. And then there was that smile, which held their attention as Katy explained that life doesn’t always deliver on its promises, but that a small group of caring individuals -- in her case, blood donors -- are often capable of making up the difference.

Keep smiling, Katy!

Download a PDF of the first 4 chapters of Lauren's memoir, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances, FREE here.  Click on the link below the green "Buy the Book" button.  Happy reading!  

No comments:

Post a Comment