Paralyzed after a fall, teen determined to dance at her prom. Read her story.

By Katie Vacek, Needville High School Class of 2017

My senior year at Needville High School was more than halfway complete.  I was a class officer, in National Honor Society, ranked 6th in my graduating class, member of the fighting bluejay band, a 3-year varsity cheerleader, and on the powerlifting team.

My future was pretty much set.  I had been accepted to Texas State University where I planned to try out for their cheer squad.  I was very determined to make it to state in powerlifting.  On February 26, 2017, my future took a slight detour.  While at a family party, I decided to go on a nature walk with my boyfriend, brother and cousins.  The woods near our home have always been one of my favorite places.  I have explored and climbed trees there since I was a little girl.  But on this day, at 17 years old, I made a decision that would change the rest of my life.

I climbed approximately 20 feet up a beautifully grand oak tree.  Why so high?  Because I am good at it and I’ve done it many times before.  I take pride in the fact that I can climb higher than anyone else.  Just as I was about to come down, I lost my balance.  I could feel myself start to fall.  I tried to grab a branch on my way down and hit my head.  I blacked out and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground face down in the dirt and leaves.

I turned myself over and I could not feel my legs.  At the time, that was not my major concern.  I was having difficulty breathing.  I was starting to panic because there was so much pressure on my chest that I felt like I was suffocating.  My boyfriend saw the whole thing.  I’m told that when I fell, I hit the branch which threw me backward.  I landed on my back and my legs were thrown over my head flipping me onto my stomach.

The next thing I knew, there were people all around me.  I was taken by Memorial Hermann Life Flight® to Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute in the Texas Medical Center.  My injuries were very severe: fractured sternum, multiple broken ribs, partially collapsed lung and a broken spine. My parents were told that they would not know the extent of the damage until the surgeon went in to try and repair my spine.  After a seven-hour surgery, the surgeon  spoke to my parents.  He fused my spine from T3 down to T10.  At the T6 level, my spinal cord was severed. Although I may never walk again, I was lucky to still be alive!

After spending a couple of days in the intensive care unit, I was moved to a patient room and waited to be transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann, where I would start  my rehabilitation.

When I got to TIRR Memorial Hermann, all of the initial assessments were done and I was classified as a complete spinal cord injury ASIA A.  I had no movement or sensation below my rib cage.  I had no voluntary bladder or bowel function.  I was devastated, but I did not want to show any weakness.  I am an athlete.  I’m not always the best athlete, but none the less, an athlete.

With strong determination, I was not going to let this injury stop me.  I had too many things to get done, too much to live for. There was so much I needed to learn if I wanted to get back and hang out with my friends again before everyone left for college.  I wanted to go to all of the year-end banquets, watch my boyfriend play baseball, be there to get my diploma and, most of all, attend my senior prom.

My support team at TIRR Memorial Hermann was awesome.  My doctors, nurses and therapists understood how important all of these goals were to me.  In therapy, they had me doing things that I didn’t know I could still do.  The first time I stood up in the stall bars, I was able to control my body very well.  When I realized that I could do this so soon, the thought came to mind, could I use this for something?  Could I possibly stand next to my boyfriend again?  Could I dance at prom?

Immediately, my physical therapist  started working up a plan.  She emailed the entire TIRR Memorial Hermann team and got a huge response.  That’s when we decided, we were going to make this happen!

As my therapy continued to make me stronger, my therapists worked on their own time to produce a harness for me and my boyfriend to wear at prom.  My boyfriend was so supportive.  He came up to TIRR Memorial Hermann every chance he got to learn the proper body mechanics to be able to stand me upright using the harness.  Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of days that I thought I was not making progress.  There were setbacks that made me question my ability.  But in the end, my therapists were right; I could still do everything I did before my accident.  I just might have to do it in a different way.

When I got back home, I was able to do all of the things that I was hoping to do.  I am graduating 6th in my class, attended all of the year-end banquets, and was able to watch my boyfriend play in his last few baseball games.  Most of all, I was able to attend and dance with my boyfriend at my senior prom.  To make things even more special, we were voted Prom King and Queen by our classmates.

To learn more about how TIRR Memorial Hermann is helping people with spinal cord injuries, click here.



  2. Katie,
    The Lord is in your life. You used the competitive spirit he gave you to better your condition. Continue to do so. It would seem that if you’ve come this far, the Lord must have great things in store for you in the future.
    Your treatment at the medical center blows my mind. Providers enlisting the assistance of others, working on their own time, etc-how unusual is this⁉️⁉️
    Good luck. Keep that spirit. Sooner or later the world will again hear great things about and from you.

  3. Katie, you are an amazing young lady and an inspiration. I will be sharing your story with my children so they can see from a peer that they too can overcome adversity.

  4. God is almighty! Katie you are such an amazing young lady! You and your family are loved by so many people. Fairchild loves live to the moon and back a million times!

  5. Katie. We are so thankful for your recovery this far. Everybody and individual in the Needville area prayed and are still praying. You are such an inspiration to all. With your determination, you can do anything you put your mind to. God Bless you, your boyfriend and l those who worked miracles.

  6. That was Awesome! Such determination and outlook! Hope you will keep God first in all of your indevers. I am a second cousin to the one who you go to school with. Her Mother posted this on Facebook. I live in West Virginia. Be always Praying for you!

  7. Absolutely beautifully written. It captures the true character and courage of sweet Katie!

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Tashika Varma