Katie Smith, with her canine companion, will turn 40 on Saturday. Happy birthday, Katie!

Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

A friend of mine is celebrating a birthday this week and this column is a surprise for her birthday. Katie Smith will be 40 on Aug. 18, 2007, and I know the residents of Fairfield Glade and Cumberland County join me in wishing her a very happy birthday. If you don't know Katie, let me introduce you. Katie is very special because of what she does and who she is, not what she cannot do. However, let's talk about what she cannot do, so far, for a moment. When she was 15 she was an active athletic teen with dreams of living in New York as an interior decorator. That was before a blood vessel burst in her brainstem. The stroke was uncommon and rare for a teenager. Her larynx had to be removed to enable her to breathe and eat; therefore, she cannot talk. Initially, she could move only an eyelid and a toe. She was left with vertical eye movement (nystagmus) that inhibits her sight. The stroke left doctors with little hope for her recovery.

Katie and her family are firmly grounded in their faith. That faith was to be tested many times through her years of recovery. With family and friends praying, a team of 10 doctors initially concentrated on Katie's recovery. For the doctors, friends and family, Katie's recovery and abilities are a lesson in faith. It is not what Katie cannot do that is important; it is what she can do. She might not be able to talk, but there are few that can communicate as well as Katie. All of her e-mails close with, "God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called." An e-mail conversation with Katie reveals a sharp insightful mind, an articulate way with words, and a delightful sense of humor. After the stroke, Katie graduated from high school and from Kennesaw State University in Georgia with a BA degree, honors in studio art and a minor in psychology. Her art has received many awards over the years and graces the homes of cities throughout the U.S. and other countries. Katie has even won this column's prestigious "Gumption Award" two years running as part of our annual "Dimpled Globe Awards." However, her art greatly enhances her ability to communicate:

"Through my art, I found a way to connect to a world I felt very isolated from. Proving that hard work, determination, faith, good friends and family can get you exactly where you want to be. My art doesn't have an exact image or meaning. Hopefully, everyone finds different images and meaning in it, an emotional playground for all to play in and enjoy!"

While continuing physical rehab at the Glade's Wellness Center, her previous trainer, Annette Johnson, suggested to her parents, John and Virginia, "This girl has potential we need to address." Katie was referred to National Neuro in Knoxville. One of only four locations in the U.S., National Neuro is a source for innovative stroke rehab and cutting edge technology such as Saebo FTM, a device that assists with opening a stroke-affected hand for grasp and release activities. Katie's training at the wellness center continues. Her work on the treadmill began with 10 steps and increased to 50. When her trainer left for vacation she ordered, "By the time I get back, I want to see you taking 75 steps." Katie was soon past numbering her steps and into 10 or 15 minutes on the treadmill. She now has one foot in a cast from her ankle to just below her knee. This is to rehab and strengthen her ankle. Yes, learning to walk is a challenge, but few maximize their ability like Katie. This is a special birthday for Katie and her family. Katie knows, as we do, that every birthday is special and we are fortunate to be able to celebrate Katie's with her and her family.

Kudos, gripes, suggestions? E-mail dfbackus@aol.com.

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