At dinner, Katie Morillo smiles across the table at her 12-year-old daughter, Makayla. They are relishing a girl’s night out, something they both look forward to between busy work and school schedules. Sometimes it’s dining out, other times they shop or catch a movie. It doesn’t matter the activity, as long as they are together. Theirs is a mother-daughter bond stronger than most.
In the summer of 2005, Katie had been participating in a pharmaceutical research study in New Jersey. At the end of the day, another participant offered a ride back to Times Square to several from the group, including Katie. The decision to get into the car, she says, was life changing.
“It was a perfect day, sunny, with no traffic.” Katie recalls. “We noticed another car swerving and changing lanes right before it hit our driver’s side and; the car began to spin. As it did, we were hit on all sides and then flipped several times. I was in the back in the middle seat and wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Everyone got out of the car except me. I couldn’t figure out why my legs weren’t working. Other people, including a few nurses and doctors, got out of their cars to help. They were holding my neck, and I figured something was up, but no one wanted to tell me. They called a helicopter to fly in and transport me to the hospital.”
Once there, Katie learned that she had broken the T12 vertebrae in her spine, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Surgery followed and for more than a year after the accident, she was in rehabilitation learning how to do things independently, including navigating a wheelchair.
Although Katie landed a full-time job after her recovery, she struggled with her new reality. Then, Makayla was born.
“She was my inspiration to not give up,” Katie said.
Today, Katie is a fiercely independent working mother juggling home and a career as an administrator at Independent Care System, New York’s first and only disability-expert Health Home Program. That’s where she was first introduced to NSM, one of the system’s providers. She and Makayla live in the Bronx, where Katie was born and raised as well.
“Public transportation in the city is much easier than in other places,” she said. “A lot of people with disabilities prefer to take the trains, but I prefer to take buses. Rush hour is crazy and the train at that time is too. Thankfully New York is more flexible with travel options. Now we have some accessible taxis too.”
Katie recently enrolled Makayla in St. Ignatius School in the Bronx. The school building is accessible, making it possible for Katie to watch performances, attend parent-teacher conferences or just visit her daughter’s classroom.
When not at work or school, Katie and Makayla spend time on the go or at home. The mother and daughter were also featured in a New York Times story.
“I want to inspire Makayla to never give up,” Katie said. “If I can do it, she can do it. And, as long as we’re together, it’s all okay.”