Strong. Determined. Remarkable. Those are the three words Cate Squires uses to describe herself. “I’m pretty lucky to be alive,” she said. The 23-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., suffered a traumatic left leg amputation and a bilateral stroke after a car accident last spring. Standing confidently on her new prosthetic leg, Cate is adjusting to her “new normal.”
Susan Squires recounts the evening of May 7, when she got the call that every parent dreads. There had been a terrible accident on Interstate 169 in Kansas City. Her daughter, Cate, was in intensive care at North Kansas City Hospital. She was driving her Ford Focus, had rear-ended a vehicle and was pulled over on the shoulder checking the damage when an alleged drunk driver slammed into her.
Cate was thrown 100 feet and her left leg was severed from the high-speed impact. A passerby used his belt as a tourniquet to keep Cate from bleeding out. The trauma team rushed Cate into surgery to repair her torn aorta, ruptured stomach and fractured pelvis. Three days later, Cate suffered a bilateral stroke, possibly due to the massive blood loss.
The prognosis the surgeons shared with Susan and her husband, Gil, was guarded. Cate was in a coma and if she woke up, odds were she’d be unable to care for herself. Her parents never gave up hope. On Cate’s Caring Bridge site, that amassed 19,856 visits to date, family and friends sent messages of encouragement to use her “fight” and “sassiness.” Cate’s close friends refer to her as Katniss, the heroine in the Hunger Games novels and her mother agrees. “That’s Cate, no fear, no looking back, charging forward,” said Susan.
Three weeks later, Cate emerged from her coma, but couldn’t speak. On a trach, she communicated with facial expressions. “We had a little system,” said Susan. Eyeblinks meant “no” and raising her eyebrows meant “yes.” They’d carry on a whole conversation that way.
Recovering from the stroke and amputation were the next challenges for Cate. Development Coordinator Danna Woelver met with Cate and her parents and shared the positive outcomes of Madonna’s specialized programs. On May 31, a three- hour ambulance ride brought Cate to Madonna. She was unable to sit up and was dependent on a ventilator and feeding tube.
Erin Pickus, occupational therapist, recalls first meeting Cate, “a vibrant, young woman, who was just starting out in the world when this tragedy happened.” The team mapped out the vision for her therapy. Baby steps - tolerating therapy, being able to sit, then transfer from her wheelchair – led to bigger gains. Cate fought through significant phantom pain with her amputation, sensations experts say cause physical pain as if the limb is still attached.
Those first days were rough for Cate. “I wasn’t a pleasant person to be around.” The loss of her leg made her angry and confused. She’d punch her fist into the bed in frustration. “I kept wondering why don’t I have my leg?”
After a brief setback with a painful bowel obstruction that required hospitalization, Cate’s attitude shifted dramatically when she returned to Madonna. “I was a whole different person.” In a few weeks, weaned from the vent and trach, Cate was upbeat and anxious to regain her mobility.
Before the accident, Cate, a Missouri State graduate, had been a busy corporate event planner with a dedicated work ethic. Now all that energy was poured into her recovery. Cate declared goals to walk independently, regain use of her right arm and hand that were damaged by the stroke and refine her speech.
Results didn’t happen quickly, but through repetitive sessions of physical, occupational and speech therapy Cate made dramatic progress. A hat lover, Cate wore several during her recovery to brighten the day for herself and others struggling with their own recovery.