KC Catey and her family is in the midst of one the best holiday seasons of their lives.
It has taken a long time for the Rogers High sophomore to reach this point, but Christmas even came early for her this year.
As the Rogers girls basketball team was about to face 4A South Puget Sound League South foe Graham-Kapowsin on Dec. 15, coach Amy Looker looked over to Catey and said the words the sophomore had been looking forward to hearing for nearly three months.
“I didn’t really know if I would be put in that game,” Catey said. “Coach said she would play me, and she did.”
It was a magical moment for the sophomore to check in at the scorer’s table for Rams.
“To see her strength through all this gave me and her father (Tom Catey) strength,” KC’s mother, Karin, said while holding back tears. “To see her now walking again and playing sports is incredible.”
One fateful swing
All it took was one swing of the golf club, but Catey knew something was up. She tried to ignore it, but soon the pain became too much for the sophomore.
On Sept. 17, the Rogers girls golf team was locked in a match with Graham-Kapowsin and Catey was at hole No. 7 at Lipoma Firs. It was like any other golf day for the sophomore, nothing was out of the ordinary. But when it came time for her to tee off, something went wrong.
“I was going to overdrive (the ball) and I tried to adjust too much,” Catey admitted. “I tried to bring my club in to drive it, and I felt a tweak in my back ... I felt something pinch.”
That tweak stiffened her back up, but nothing felt wrong, just off. For Catey’s father, it looked nothing more than a funny walk after he finished watching where Catey’s ball landed down the fairway.
No concerns arose — yet.
“I missed what happened with her swing since I was watching where her ball went,” Tom said. “When I looked back, she was already walking towards her second shot. All I saw was her walking like how an old man walks.”
The pain was not going to stop Catey from finishing that match. She’s fought through it before.
I didn’t remember much of that day. All I know is I went to school and I woke up in the hospital.
“I’ve been injured many times, and I thought this was just like any other time,” Catey said.
But it wasn’t like the other times because on Catey’s next swing attempt, her whole world began to crumble around her. A jolted shock was sent through her body, freezing up her back, and in the end, crippling her for months.
“All I saw was her just stuck there in the middle of her swing,” Tom said. “She just froze and a moment later, she dropped her club and yelled, ‘Daddy!’ as she crumbled to the ground … I didn’t know what was happening.”
Catey laid there frozen stiff, fading in and out of consciousness as paramedics rushed to the scene. Karin was still on her way to the golf course when she heard the news.
“A parent from the other team waited for me in the parking lot to speed me out to where they were,” Karin said. “I rode with her in the ambulance to the hospital.”
As both Karin and Tom worried about their daughter’s health, Catey was oblivious as the world simply went away.
“I didn’t remember much of that day,” Catey said. “All I know is I went to school and I woke up in the hospital.”
Catey may not have remembered that day, but the following two and a half months she’ll never forget.
Sympathetic Nerve Dystrophy
Two days after being admitted into Good Samaritan Hospital, Catey went in for a reevaluation, and the results were not what she wanted to hear.
I remember all the kids there were concerned that I was going to be there for Christmas. Before then, I never really let all of this get to me … I never let it affect me.
“They said that it was a muscle spasm and I was good to go home,” Catey said. “But I still had a tingly sensation in my legs, and that Saturday we went back, they said it was (SND) and I should gain my feeling back.”
But the feeling didn’t come back, and for more than a week Catey was bound to a chair. For over a week she visited one doctor after another trying to find answers. But then she came to a neurologist, who found some answers.
“They admitted me to Mary Bridge (Children’s Hospital) for testing, and they did a whole bunch of testing,” Catey said. “But they didn’t find a reason for the injury. They couldn’t explain it to us, so they told us they were going to wait it out.”
She was to wait it out until more answers were revealed, Catey added, but that didn’t help the cause. By the beginning of October, the teenager was unable to walk and in a wheelchair.
Daily life difficulties
For a month, Catey and her family had no answers. October became bleak as the idea of when Catey would ever walk again began to creep on her parents.
Her household wasn’t equipped for the impaired, and Catey would soon realize much of her world wasn’t either.
“I had to carry her around,” Tom said. “I had to throw her over my shoulder and take her from one room to the next.”
The home life is one thing. That part can be adapted. What’s hard is the world around them doesn’t change to accommodate on the fly.
“Trying to navigate through a little hotel room was fun,” Karin said with a laugh. “(Many of) these rooms weren’t meant for someone in a wheelchair.”
As Catey began to adjust to life confined to a chair, she never stopped looking for answers. She never stopped trying to work with physical therapists or with trainers. Catey spent her days as she normally would — with a few adjustments here and there.
The doctor asked my parents to leave, and (they) told me I may never play sports again, if not like I used to. That was the first time I broke down and cried. But something sort of awoken in me after that.
Life never stopped.
But then on Nov. 11, at Seattle Children’s Hospital, life did stop for Catey.
“I remember all the kids there were concerned that I was going to be there for Christmas,” Catey recalled. “Before then, I never really let all of this get to me … I never let it affect me.”
At Seattle Children’s, Catey was told news she never wanted to hear: She may never play sports again.
“The doctor asked my parents to leave, and (they) told me I may never play sports again, if not like I used to,” Catey said. “That was the first time I broke down and cried. But something sort of awoken in me after that.”
A fire was lit inside Catey from that moment. When Karin and Tom left for work, leaving Catey all alone, she went into overdrive to get back on her feet. No one was going to tell this Rams sophomore she wouldn’t play sports again.
“I told myself I was going to walk again,” Catey said.
For 10 days, Catey worked without prying eyes. No one knew what she was up to all those times alone. And then on Nov. 21, Catey went to her father and did the improbable.
“She said, ‘Look at this,’ as she stood straight up from her chair,” Tom recalled.
The next day Catey was walking again, albeit in a clumsy manner.
“She had this Frankenstein-like walk, but she was able to do it on her own,” Karin said.
Carrying each other
Late November during a basketball practice, Catey showed up like she had done many times since her injury.
Sitting there in her wheelchair as the Rams were about to begin practice, Catey gave them their biggest surprise: She stood and walked.
“That was a huge surprise for all of us,” Looker said only days after Catey revealed her progress. “I told her she was no longer on our honorary roster — she was going to be on our roster.”
“It felt good knowing how much everyone supported me,” Catey said.
Days after her reveal, Catey walked around the gym with a teammate trailing her. She moved slowly, as if a steel rod had been placed down her back and legs, and teammates often stopped to chat and check on her. It was this reason nothing seemed to scar the sophomore during the entire ordeal.
We told her we’ll do everything we can for her, and to keep her healthy.
Amy Looker, Rogers girls basketball coach
“We told her we’ll do everything we can for her, and to keep her healthy,” Looker said.
On Dec. 8, Catey returned to junior varsity action. One half into the game, Looker pulled her from the lineup. Bigger things were to come.
“(Looker) told me I needed to suit up for varsity — there wasn’t anything left for me (on JV),” Catey said.
One week later, Catey was playing a game in that game against G-K. The Rams went on to win, 51-21, and Catey logged one minute of floor time.
“It was amazing to see her out there. The whole team cheered for her when she stepped on the floor,” Looker said.
The moment was special for Catey, but the sophomore was all about business as the Rams had a game to close out.
“I told them I was going to need help out there (at times), and they could forget about me running,” Catey said with a laugh.
That moment was created by KC Catey. For more than two months, she overcame a disability that doctors had no answers for. It was her fearlessness in not giving in, she admitted, as she couldn’t see herself act in any other way.
“Oh, I’ll definitely be there for golf next year,” Catey said. “Hole No. 7 at Lipoma Firs versus G-K — that’s what I’m looking forward to.”