By Melody Birkett
Katie Solliday was a typical teenager with a bright future. She was captain of her school color guard team, had a 4.0 GPA, and had just been accepted to ASU’s Barrett Honors College’s biomedical engineering program.
Then, tragedy struck. Katie was rushed to the hospital with what was determined to be a brain aneurysm. She spent eight weeks in a coma but miraculously survived.
This was on November 22, 2016, six days before her 18th birthday.
A week earlier, Katie suffered from bad headaches, her mom, Rita, said. She felt feel a little better by the weekend and made it to a band competition. Two days later, Katie went home after school and got another headache. This time, she passed out.
Katie was rushed to the ER. “I do remember the doctor saying the fastest way to her getting treatment is to call the stroke unit,” said Rita. “She has a hemorrhage.”
Rita said she wasn’t comprehending what the doctor said. “I was thinking she’d have surgery and she’d be all better.”
The neurosurgeon said, “If you don’t do surgery, she’ll die. She has age on her side.”
What was more terrifying in the weeks to come was “every doctor saying they don’t know the outcome,” added Rita. “For eight weeks, I didn’t know if she’d come out.”
Today, Katie’s starting all over, having to learn how to do everything she learned as a child, including smiling, eating, and talking. Katie’s in a skilled nursing facility and still has a lot of physical therapy in her future since she has little use of her arms and legs. She needs care around the clock.
“About February, Katie started talking gradually,” said Rita. “We’d spell out words to her.”
A turning point was when a friend of Katie’s visited and held up a cell phone. Rita said, “The friend pointed to things on the phone and Katie started responding and communicating her needs. The world opened up.”
Despite many challenges, there was one fear that stood out from the rest. Katie told her mom, “My biggest fear is not graduating high school.”
Once her parents realized she could read and communicate, they decided to try and make that dream come true.
atie had already passed all her classes except English to graduate. So, Rita said the assistant principal administered an English test to Katie and she passed.
On May 23, Katie graduated with her class at Campo Verde High School. Her two older brothers from California were there.
Recently, friends and family gathered for a two-day “Band Together” musical festival to benefit Katie. Some top Valley bands performed – including The Noodles – at Cactus Jack’s in Ahwatukee Foothills.
“I don’t have words to express my gratitude,” Rita said. “People, out of the kindness of their hearts, put on the fundraiser.” Also, the bands. “They have a sense of caring for each other. It’s incredible how these musicians banded together.”
The next step for Katie is more therapy at Barrow Neurological Institute. Katie needs more cognitive and speech therapy. She’s also not walking on her own. She needs a harness to walk with mechanical support. Katie is now feeding herself through an adaptive spoon.
Overall, Rita said her daughter’s in good spirits. “She loves to see her friends. See likes to use her phone. Like any other teen, she uses Instagram.”
As far as ASU, “In her mind, she plans to be in school in the fall,” said Rita. In case that’s not possible, ASU has agreed to defer Katie’s scholarship until she’s ready to attend.
“Our prayers have been answered,” Rita said. “We remain hopeful.”