Kaitlyn, a skyscraper
Kaitlyn, like any teenager, loves the Twilight movies, Demi Lovato’s music and to ride the rides at Disneyland. To the naked eye, she appears to be as happy and carefree as any other kid her age, until one hears her story. Then one realizes she is not just like any adolescent, even if she speaks very fast and worries about her looks.
A week before she turned twelve, Kaitlyn Hawkins was diagnosed with scoliosis.
As she aged, her body was shrinking, or to be more exact, it was growing sideways.
This was due to a malformation on her spine that reached a curvature of 107 degrees. As a result, one of her hips and one shoulder stuck out over her clothes, shouting loudly the alarming stage of her condition. Bullies at her school started calling her “the hunchback.” Some of them dared to poke her on her sides.
Kaitlyn felt lonely, humiliated, and impotent.
“Why were they so mean to me when my disease was not something I had any control over, when it wasn’t my fault?” she asked.
During those dark moments, moments of deep despair, the lyrics of her favorite song came to her mind:
You can take everything I have
You can break everything I am
Like I’m made of glass
Like I’m made of paper, oh
Go on and try to tear me down
I will be rising from the ground
Like a skyscraper
Like a skyscraper
Thanks to the Shriners, Kaitlyn found Dr. Rolando Roberto, who performed two surgeries on her at no cost. They were long and complicated operations that left her body with 14 permanent screws and various rods. The good news is that a few months later she was able to bend over to touch her toes for the first time in her life. She was even able to run!
And a lot of running needed to be done during those days when Kaitlyn and her mom worked extra hard to balance the endless physical therapies sessions with months of piled up homework. (Her incredible mother had to relearn Algebra in order to help her daughter catch up with the rest of the students in her class.)
At the same time, Kaitlyn was ready to catch up with her life, ready to shed all the sad memories attached to a deformed body as well as the horrible anxiety she suffered in anticipation to the surgeries. However, even though forgetting it all was the easiest way to go about it; little did she know she will soon be asked to speak in public about surviving scoliosis and the two painful procedures she endured.
“I didn’t know if I could find the strength within me to open once more that Pandora’s box.”
Then she remembered the angst she experienced during the pre-surgery season, her confusion, the misery of not knowing what lies ahead.
“I have to do this,” she told her herself. And she did in spite of her shyness and her pain.
Ever since that day, she has been telling her story over and over again.
Her story is story of faith, of hope and of encouragement for those who are going through similar circumstances. Young people who will face surgery and do not know what to expect from it. She speaks to them at the school, via email and through her speeches. She tells them it is going to be okay, that they don’t need to be afraid. She gives them courage, a light at the end of the tunnel, a piece of her soul, a vote of trust in themselves.
So, after all the mocking, after facing her own fears, after being physically and emotionally hurt, Kaitlyn rose from the ground like a skyscraper to hold the hand of others as vulnerable and scared as she used to be.
That is why we celebrate her today.
Kaitlyn, our hero, we thank you for being such a source of inspiration!