Pascagoula woman’s determination inspires loved ones, strangers

PASCAGOULA — “When life gives you trying situations, I don’t say, ‘Why me, I say try me.’ ”

That’s the slogan on T-shirts that are being sold to raise funds to help send Katy Blake, a 23-year-old Pascagoula native who suffered a life-altering injury in a diving accident last spring, back to full-time physical rehab.

The effort was started by a young woman Blake barely knew, who read about her in The Mississippi Press and felt she “had to do something.”

Laura Cole, a nurse and stay-at-home mom, said it was “divine intervention” that caused her to start the effort several months ago.

Several hundred shirts have been sold so far, she said. Other fundraisers, such as a benefit concert and fish fry, are in the works.

Cole, who went to school with Blake’s older brother, said she stayed up all night after reading about Blake.

“My husband came in and I had mascara running down my face, and he said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I told him about it, and said I thought I needed to do something.”

Her sister suggested a T-shirt fundraiser with the Mississippi clothing company Southern Belle, a brand popular among women and girls.

So Cole called the company’s 1-800 number, and after being transferred about “12 different times” ended up talking to the artist herself. They came up with a design and slogan for the Katy shirts, which were wholeheartedly approved by Katy, whom Cole had gotten to know over the phone.

“We were pumped about it, and I could tell she was too,” Laura said. The pair met for the first time in person on Thursday.

Insurance limits prove frustrating

Blake had insurance “up until two months” before her spinal cord was injured during a canoe trip with friends, with her mom, Sara Blake, switching to Medicaid since she had just turned 65.

Medicaid pays for only limited rehab — in Katy’s case 90 minutes three times a week at Ocean Springs Hospital. Blake and her loved ones firmly believe that the pace of her progress would improve with more intense, inpatient therapy.

“That’s 7, 8 hours every day vs. only three days a week,” she said. “From what I’ve found out from other people with similar injuries, it really makes a difference.”

Blake is a poised and graceful young lady who is clearly comfortable in her own skin. Far from despairing after the accident, she’s used it as a driving force to bring attention to the challenges quadriplegics face.

She’s started a Youtube channel where she talks about her daily challenges and progress, and a Facebook page that already has several thousand followers. She’s been interviewed on several local radio stations.

Since she’s already made more progress than doctors anticipated. Now able to put on her own makeup, fix her hair, and work on the phone and computer, she is more than ready to handle intense, daily therapy, she said.

But it’s very expensive.

Generosity so far has been impressive.

At Jackson’s Methodist Hospital, for example, where Blake spent about one month after she was released from Forrest General Hospital, the cost for inpatient rehab is about $15,000 a week.

Blake’s first choice is Shepherd Center in Atlanta, one of the top spinal cord injury rehabilitation centers in the country.

Cole and Blake say the support so far has been overwhelming. People at Ingalls, for example, where Katy’s late dad worked, have been particularly generous.

Orders for shirts have come from as far away as Boston and England.

Blake said she doesn’t plan on being in a power wheelchair for the rest of her life, and hopes, with help from people who care about her, she will reach that goal.

By Kaija Wilkinson

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