The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Local News

July 7, 2014

Crash survivor travels road to recovery

Sunday, July 8, 2014 — Although the Monday morning started like most first days of the work and school week, it quickly detoured and has yet to return to normal.

Katelin Rush was supposed to text her mother, Lola Gaston, once she arrived at school like she did every school morning. Katelin first dropped her brother, L.J., off for classes at North Stanly Middle School before the junior headed to start her day at North Stanly High.

Lola proceeded to work at Albemarle Pediatric. Her boss called and said she was running late because of snarled traffic due to an accident in front of the high school.

Meanwhile, Lola noticed that Katelin was three minutes late texting to signal that she had arrived safely. Lola tried calling her oldest, but the call instead went to voice mail.

“I did that two more times, still no answer,” Lola said.

Then her phone rang from her son’s football coach, who told her that he was told to get word to her that Katelin had been in a crash.

“Is she OK?” Lola asked the caller.

“He said ‘You just need to get there.’ It’s the worst nightmare of a call a parent can get.”

Katelin, 17, was turning into school March 17 when she crossed into the path of a pickup driven by another teenage motorist heading to Stanly Academy. The truck slammed into Katelin’s driver’s side door.

Katelin suffered critical head trauma. Authorities would have had her airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, but the weather proved too risky. Instead they rushed her by ambulance.

Katelin was comatose from a traumatic brain injury. She remained that way for four weeks.

Friends, classmates and school personnel flooded the hospital’s waiting room to stand vigil.

“I couldn’t wait to tell her,” Lola said.

“She probably didn’t know she was loved that much.”

Supporters leaped into action to start a fundraiser in Katelin’s honor, first selling T-shirts with a biblical verse and pleas for prayer for Katelin.

School administrators assigned extra counselors to help students cope with Katelin’s crash and her perilous condition.

Lola waited for a change in Katelin’s condition. It was slow to come.

The first sign of progress came when Katelin opened her eyes. Progress continues to come in small doses.

On May 27, Katelin returned to her home and familiar surroundings for the first time since she left that fateful morning for school.  

“She’s more alert now,” Lola said.

“I see her getting stronger and stronger. We’ve just got to wait on her.”

Unable to speak, Katelin responds to simple commands by blinking her eyes for yes or no. Or she uses a computer application to communicate.

Katelin relies on a feeding tube for nourishment.

There’s a homebound nurse to help shoulder Katelin’s care.

In spite of adversity, Lola remains optimistic, refusing to utter a negative word about Katelin’s circumstances.

When Lola’s voice quivers with emotion, she stares straight ahead, chin up, brushing tears off her cheeks.

“She’s going to get back to herself,” Lola said.

“She’s a fighter.

“The Lord’s going to take care of her.”

While her classmates enjoy their summer before their senior year, Katelin undergoes countless therapies amid hope she, too, will return among them.

Katelin is undergoing physical, occupational and speech therapy. Otherwise, she’s in bed or a wheelchair.

Because she is frequently back and forth to Charlotte for treatment, there are logistical issues to work out such as transportation. And there is constant grappling with insurance representatives.

The community, however, has not wavered with its support.

Prospect Baptist Church built a deck with a handicap ramp to assist Katelin’s entering and exiting the house.

Culp Lumber donated the wood.

Clayton Homes provided materials for Katelin’s bathroom.

Donors have stepped forward to help Katelin and her family during the difficult time.  

Fundraisers helped defray mounting medical expenses that often accompany tragic events.

Crystal Simpson is spearheading one slated for Sept. 5 at West Albemarle Baptist Church. Simpson hopes to sell 5,000 barbecued chicken plates amid efforts to raise enough money to buy Katelin a conversion van to help carry her back and forth between medical appointments. She also hopes to apply proceeds toward Katelin’s medical debt.

Simpson and her daughter, Hailey, have known Katelin since kindergarten. She calls her a “happy” and “bubbly child” with tremendous “spunk.”

And Simpson agrees with Lola that Katelin will battle back to resume her place in life.

“She is definitely a fighter,” Simpson said.

“If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t be here.

“God is on her side.”

Katelin is the frequent beneficiary of prayer, a gift the family cannot do without.  

“That’s definitely what she needs: prayer,” Lola said.

To submit story ideas, contact Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28.


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