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TRAUMATIC BRAIN-INJURY SURVIVOR TACKLES SCUBA DIVING ADVENTURES FOR THE DISABLED; UNDERWATER MIRACLES.

Byline: ANA MARIA TRUJILLO

Last week, Santa Fe resident Kat Weil could barely contain her excitement. She was just a few days away from boarding a plane and starting her all-expense paid, week-long scuba diving scuba diving

Swimming done underwater with a self-contained underwater-breathing apparatus (scuba), as opposed to skin diving, which requires only a snorkel, goggles, and flippers. Scuba gear was invented by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Émile Gagnan in 1943.
 trip in the Cayman Islands as part of the Dive Pirates Foundation adaptive scuba-diving program.

"I'm ecstatic," Kat Weil said with a bright smile. "I can't wait."

Weil and her mother, BJ Weil, have been training and studying for six months to make this trip a reality.

"We had to learn a whole series of sign-language signals. You have to learn 21 signals because you can't talk underwater," BJ Weil explained. "There has been a lot of studying."

"It's been really difficult," Kat Weil added. "I've been working out at home [ETH eth  
n.
Variant of edh.
] I've had water-resistant routines at the gym. I've done a lot of weight training and practicing different water testing with 50-pound weights to be ready."

Dive Pirates has an Albuquerque chapter that chose Weil to be New Mexico's pirate, which included the free trip. Kat is one of nine new adaptive divers, and six veteran adaptive divers, who made the trip. Stacey Minton, who heads the Albuquerque Dive Pirates chapter and co-owns the New Mexico Scuba Center with her husband, Si, said adaptive scuba diving provides people with disabilities an opportunity to be free.

"It's absolute freedom," Minton said. "They get underwater and there are no chairs for them to sit in, and there is nothing to hold them up. It's weightless freedom."

Kat Weil was in a car accident some years ago and suffered a traumatic brain injury Traumatic brain injury (TBI), traumatic injuries to the brain, also called intracranial injury, or simply head injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes brain damage. TBI can result from a closed head injury or a penetrating head injury and is one of two subsets of acquired brain . The experience underwater is something she's been wanting to do since her first scuba diving trip many years ago.

"I loved to be with the fish," Kat Weil said. She has also been a longtime lover of being in the water. As an elementary student in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she grew up, she was a competitive swimmer and being in the water was integral in her recovery after the accident.

Kat Weil said the Dive Pirates Foundation is "phenomenal."

Although Kat Weil said she feels that being part of Dive Pirates is the most exciting thing she's ever done, others might disagree. Because of her remarkable recovery after her accident -- which left her in a coma for 12 weeks -- Kat (known at the time as Kathy Miller) was invited to the White House, nominated for awards and even had a movie made about her life called The Miracle of Kathy Miller. The movie, starring Helen Hunt as Kat, was made in 1981, just four years after her accident.

Kathy Miller was an athletic, bubbly 13-year-old girl growing up in Scottsdale. She was an avid long-distance runner, swimmer and cheerleader. One March day, she was on her way to a shopping center with a friend, when she was struck by a car. She suffered a broken leg and severe brain damage; when she fell into a coma, doctors warned her family to expect the worst.

The book Kathy, written by BJ Weil and Charles Paul Conn Charles Paul Conn (born December 23, 1945) is president of Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee.

Paul Conn became president of Lee University in 1986. During his presidency the university has seen significant growth in the form of increased enrollment, from 1,214 to just
, describes how BJ held onto faith and put the situation in God's hands. In the 12 weeks her daughter was in a coma, BJ and her then-husband were told that the girl would most likely stay in a vegetative state Vegetative State Definition

A coma-like state characterized by open eyes and the appearance of wakefulness is defined as vegetative.
Description

The vegetative state is a chronic or long-term condition.
.

"They told us to place her in a nursing home and forget about her because she wouldn't be able to walk and talk or think," BJ said. "They meant well, but she surprised everybody."

BJ writes in her book that she always had a sense of calm after the accident. She would spend day in and day out Adv. 1. day in and day out - without respite; "he plays chess day in and day out"
all the time
 at the hospital, talking to Kathy, massaging her with lotions, giving her facials, playing positive music and -- most importantly, she says -- praying. She refused to allow any negative words inside the hospital room, and if doctors had bad news, they were required talk to the family in the hallway.

Although there were many setbacks and times when it seemed she wouldn't make it, Kathy began to improve. She was able to be taken off the feeding tube feeding tube
n.
A flexible tube that is inserted through the pharynx and into the esophagus and stomach and through which liquid food is passed.
 and BJ started making her health food concoctions. The day she spit out one of the vile-tasting preparations was one of the happiest for BJ, who knew her daughter was coming around. Soon, Kathy awoke. It wasn't like in the movies, BJ writes --it was gradual, and it took months before Kathy was able to focus her eyes or say simple sentences.

But just six months after coming out of her coma, the teen completed the North Bank 10K Run. Although she ran awkwardly and finished far behind everybody, she earned several honors for her bravery, including the International Award for Valor valor

a rodenticide no longer marketed because of toxicity in horses causing dehydration, abdominal pain, hindlimb weakness, inappetence, fishy smell in urine. Called also N-3-pyridyl methyl N1-p-nitrophenyl urea.
 in Sport (given in London) and the Most Courageous Athlete in America.

Running became part of her recuperation recuperation /re·cu·per·a·tion/ (-koo?per-a´shun) recovery of health and strength.
recuperation,
n the process of recovering health, strength, and mental and emotional vigor.
 routine, in addition to using a stationary bike and a mini trampoline trampoline

Resilient sheet or web (often of nylon) supported by springs in a metal frame and used as a springboard and landing area in tumbling. Trampolining is an individual sport of acrobatic movements performed after rebounding into the air from the trampoline.
.

Her transition back to school was a painful one. Her friends had drifted away. She had to learn to read, write and do basic math all over again. When she returned to school, she was placed in a special-education classroom with severely handicapped children. She would sometimes come home in tears because she didn't fit in anywhere.

She and BJ devised a "Warm Fuzzy" point system, and Kat got "Warm Fuzzy" points for being nice to people or doing or saying something to make people feel good. To this day, Kat is very friendly and will immediately jump up and give a kiss on the cheek and a hug to anyone she meets.

After much hard work and many "Warm Fuzzy" points, Kat worked to be part of a regular education classroom.

Now, although it's hard work, Kat doesn't have any trouble studying. In fact, she scored a 100 percent on the 50-question test she was required to take as part of her Dive Pirate training.

"It's been an unbelievable kind of life, because Kat has just made so many strides forward," BJ said. "A lot of what she's done has encouraged other people living with disabilities to think beyond the box, and when people tell you you can't do certain things, find things you can do."

"And do them to the best of your ability," Kat added. "Life is worth stretching for. Reach your goals."

Contact Ana Maria Trujillo at 986-3084 or atrujillo@sfnewmexican.com.
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Title Annotation:Neighbors
Publication:The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM)
Date:Jun 27, 2010
Words:1064
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