Commonwealth Journal

Features

February 12, 2012

A Ray of Sunshine

Katelyn Collins’ contagious happiness not diminished by serious health issues

Somerset — Katelyn Collins has a smile that can light up a room, and it seems to do just that wherever she goes.

“She’s just so happy,” said Lisa Criswell, a Hopkins Elementary School 3rd grade teacher, who has worked with Katelyn for almost two years. “All the kids kind of feed off (her).”

Katelyn, a third-grade student at Hopkins, has seen her fair share of obstacles. She was born four months early in 2001 to mother Tawana Collins. She was one of a set of twins. The other twin did not survive.

Katelyn was born with several health issues.

She must wear a fake eye and her hearing is severely diminished.

But besides that, she was also found to be suffering from a congenital femoral deficiency, which is a term used to describe a variety of complex issues involving the upper leg and hip area. Katelyn, doctors would soon find, was born without a head on her left femur bone. That means her left femur bone did not sit in the hip socket, as it should. This resulted in a significant difference in length between Katelyn’s left and right legs. She wears a special shoe that helps the discrepancy, but Tawana said she has long experienced hip pain due to the deformity.

Katelyn has been monitored by doctors at Shriners Hospital for Children since Tawana and Katelyn moved to Somerset in 2005.

After the issue was diagnosed, Tawana inquired how it could be fixed. The options, she was told, were limited.

One suggestion was that Katelyn have a hip replacement. Tawana, feeling that her daughter is much too young for such a procedure — especially because she’s still growing — decided against it.

Another suggestion involved amputating Katelyn’s left foot and giving Katelyn a prosthetic.

Tawana decided against that as well.

Essentially, those were the only options available because another procedure Tawana had researched — limb lengthening — could only be performed by a limited number of medical professionals in the nation.

Tawana was searching for a doctor who could lengthen Katelyn’s leg between the hip socket and knee. Other, more common, limb lengthening procedures involving a lengthening between the knee and ankle bone would still result in a discrepancy.

Tawana found such a doctor in Florida.

“He said he can help her,” she said.

That news was what the mother had been waiting for.

But the complex procedure, which would occur in two different surgeries, comes with a steep price.

The first surgery is $22,000, not including the following four months of therapy Katelyn will undergo.

Tawana heard the intimidating number and got to work. With the help of friends and family — all of whom hold special places in their hearts for Katelyn — Tawana has held fundraiser after fundraiser.

In 2011, Katelyn and Tawana’s Somerset School District family helped raise more than $2,000 that covered the first consultation visit. Tawana and Katelyn’s travel expenses and any other additional expenses were also covered.

It was a good first step, one that Katelyn’s school peers and teachers were happy to help with. “Everybody pitched in for that,” Criswell said.

But there are miles to go still.

Tawana is hopeful that they’ll reach their goal. Although Katelyn isn’t one to complain, she knows when her daughter is in pain.

But often, Katelyn doesn’t seem to let her obstacles get to her.

“If you’re having a bad day, Katelyn can brighten your day,” Criswell said. “With all of her problems, she’s so happy ... nothing slows her down.”

Katelyn has progressed in leaps and bounds since entering Hopkins Elementary in 2nd grade. Before that, she attended the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville. Since she’s transitioned into the general classroom, her speech has developed rapidly.

“Katelyn makes me smile,” said 3rd grade teacher Moriah Perry. “I love watching how much she has grown in her speech.”

Katelyn’s story, and her smile, has captured everyone’s hearts, including some of her own peers. Katelyn developed a special bond with three students — Jackson Prather, Connor Speaks, and Olivia Stevens. Her fondness for them was evident to a reporter when they decided to surprise Katelyn early in the school day on Thursday.

“I love Katelyn,” Olivia said simply, about her close friend.

Criswell said the four seemed to bond immediately.

“They were more like brothers and sisters than they were classmates,” Criswell said.

Katelyn isn’t one to meet a stranger either. She decided to show some of her dance moves to a reporter on Monday — and she smiled the whole time. She loves to talk about her interests, which include rabbits and the color purple (both are evidence of her Somerset loyalty), and popular singer Justin Bieber.

And she really seems to just love life.

“I’ve never in my life met anybody like Katelyn,” Criswell said. “ ... to me, you don’t see her disabilities.”

Tawana has established a fud to help them get Katelyn the surgeries she needs. The fund, “Katelyn’s Cause,” is located at Forcht Bank.

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