GODFREY – Kelly Dorris’ life has changed over the last two years – but it certainly hasn’t stopped.
After experiencing a severe spinal cord injury two years ago, Kelly, now 22, was determined to continue to live her life to the fullest. Her career goals are a little different, but she says that’s exciting. She has learned to adapt to a new way of life, but she says that’s OK. She feels God has plans for her and believes everything happens for a reason.
In an effort to help her to regain even more of her independence, her family, friends and local residents will be holding a “Van-Raiser” benefit in her honor Friday.
A college student at the time of her accident, as soon as she was able, Kelly began researching schools that she felt were particularly friendly to someone with her Disability so she could return to her studies. She ultimately decided on Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she has been a student for the last two semesters.
Her parents, Terry and Karen, admire their daughter so much for her positive attitude and courage throughout the accident and recovery period, and the way she has insisted on becoming as independent as possible.
“It was very hard for us to take her to Carbondale and leave her there,” Karen Dorris said. “I had been her primary caregiver following the accident, but going away to college was her first big move toward independence.”
SIUC worked closely with the Dorris family to ensure that Kelly had what she needed. Her dormitory room was fully accessible; though she can do a lot on her own, a personal assistant helped her with some physical activities; and she was able to move pretty freely around campus with a motorized chair for meals and classes.
“But the first semester was hard for her, too,” Karen said. “It was her first experience of being a person with a disability in an able-bodied world.”
The transition in those first months was difficult. Kelly said she felt that people tended to ignore her.
“But the second semester was so much better,” she said. “I began to socialize and feel more comfortable in my surroundings and in my own skin.”
She now has many close friends and a boyfriend and lives with roommates off campus.
Karen said her daughter is “a very determined young woman” and that she has a great support system. She said Kelly has definitely not been beaten by her new life challenges and is willing to adapt to a new way of life. Kelly’s friends have provided tremendous support by visiting and encouraging her.
The next logical step in Kelly regaining an independent life, Karen said, is for her to be able to drive and get around on her own. For this she needs a converted van, equipped with hand controls for driving, automatic doors and one that allows her the capability of entering and exiting the vehicle in her motorized chair. The cost of such vehicles ranges from $20,000 to $60,000.
Though the state of Illinois and other organizations may provide help with vehicle conversion in some instances, Karen said, a vehicle first needs to be purchased and must meet certain criterion before assistance (if any) can be determined.
Kelly will soon be serving an internship to fulfill her degree requirements making the need for a van even more necessary. Likewise, when she enters the workforce, the vehicle will enable her to go back and forth to work on her own.
Since her accident Kelly has changed her major from English to Rehabilitation services and is very eager to be involved in the field.
“I think it’s something that I will have a good perspective on, and I will be able to really help other people. That’s what I want to do,” she said. “I know how important it is to have someone helping you to become stronger and more independent.”
Kelly’s accident occurred in August 2006, when she dove into a swimming pool and crushed the C-7 Vertebrae in her neck. She said she knew instantly that she had broken her neck.
She underwent five hours of surgery to remove bone fragments and insert titanium plates, and was told she had an incomplete spinal cord injury. Her mother said because the spinal cord was not completely severed, it allowed the return of various functions and feeling.
Kelly experienced several medical problems throughout the course of her recovery, most of which are doing better now. The movement of one of her vocal cords returned, but the other remained paralyzed. So she could speak, but her voice was weak. She has since received surgery to reposition the paralyzed cord, helping the other to move better, resulting in a stronger and louder voice.
She has regained some feeling and movement in her chest and arms and continues to work on muscle strengthening and fine Motor skill development in her hands. She can even play the piano a little now, and had her guitar restrung for left-hand play, allowing her stronger right hand to operate the chords. She can write and use the computer.
Her spirits have remained pretty high, and she says that every improvement in her physical condition makes her happy.
“I know that staying positive has helped me,” she said. “Sometimes it is hard, but when things change, I just have to learn to deal with them.”
“She continues to move forward,” Karen said. “We all have our bad days, and she has hers, too, but she is very strong-willed.”
The Dorris family home has been modified to make it more accessible for Kelly with the help of fellow church members at Westminster Presbyterian Church, local business owners and friends. Several family members, Westminster members, and many other churches, businesses and individuals around the community have helped with donations and planning for the upcoming benefit as well.
“We feel that God moves the hearts of people to be so generous,” Karen said.
The Van-Raiser benefit will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday, at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 1713 Stamper Lane in Godfrey. Tickets are $15. The evening includes a chicken dinner at 6 p.m., catered by Chef Bob’s. Dinner will be followed by oral and silent auctions and raffles for prizes like a 42-inch plasma television, a Wii entertainment package, gas cards and a 50/50 cash prize. All proceeds will go toward the purchase and conversion of a van for Kelly.
Dave Sheppard will provide music during the meal, and Aaron Kamm and the One-Drops will provide after-dinner entertainment. Kelly’s older brother, Andy, is a member of the One-Drops. Tickets for post-dinner entertainment sans meal are $7.
Cash donations can also be made to the “Kelly Dorris Van-Raiser” to help raise funds for the vehicle. Donations can be made in person or mailed to Liberty Bank, 2403 Homer Adams Parkway, Alton, Ill 62002.
To make reservations for the dinner, call Cathy Prewett at (618) 259-2304.
Send an e-mail to email@example.com to contact Kelly or her family.
Amber Russell contributed some of the information for this article.