A Centimeter a Day
Having survived a car crash that claimed four lives, Izzy Kitterman is using her competitive nature to push herself through agonizing rehab as she takes measured steps to recovery.
There are a few things that can strike a family as hard as the traumatic injury or loss of a child. Yet that’s the struggle that the Kitterman family of Jenks has faced since July 2017. That’s when three of their children — Isabella (13), Elizabeth (13), and Beck (11) — were in a car accident.
The Kitterman children were heading back to Tulsa with friends after a visit to Turner Falls, when the car struck a tractor trailer. The accident left four people dead, including both Elizabeth (Lizzy) and Beck, along with driver Erin VanHorn (40) and her son, Zac (10).
One of the survivors was Isabella (Izzy), who is as resilient as they come for a young teenager. Izzy was an elite soccer player with TSC-Hurricane before her injury. Her father, Shan, recalls the day he got the call that his children had been injured.
“We got a phone call that there was an accident,” says Shan. “We didn’t know anything. We were just told to go to OU-Children’s Medical. That was an hour-and-a-half awful trip to Oklahoma City.”
When he and his wife arrived, they learned that their son, Beck, had died on impact. Lizzy and Izzy were undergoing MRIs and other tests. But Lizzy had experienced severe head trauma and multiple breaks in her back, and soon, she was gone too.
Only Izzy survived. But she was in critical condition, suffering traumatic injuries that had her in surgery for hours. Her neck was broken, leaving her paralyzed. Her right diaphragm was partially collapsed, and she was incubated and on a ventilator. She received a pacesetter for her lungs to help her breathe.
Meeting and talking with Izzy, it becomes clear that she is a fighter, a determined young person with a lot of drive and a competitive nature that compels her to push herself. And so is her father, Shan, who has been fighting alongside his daughter throughout her long recovery process.
That sort of determination is essential to her recovery, which has taken her through the stages of being in critical condition, a lengthy hospitalization, an initial diagnosis that she’d never walk again, and agonizing therapy sessions. And it’s even won her the Tough Kid Award from OU Medicine’s Trauma One Center in 2018.
Izzy was hospitalized for four months before she was finally released to come home. “I broke my neck, causing me to be paralyzed,” says Izzy, who is soft-spoken but has the quietly mischievous smile you might expect in a teenager. “But I’m a lot better than I was,” she says. “I couldn’t breathe on my own, and now I can. I had a pacesetter, and I got that out. And I had a trach, and I got that out. And now, I’m making a lot of goals and overachieving them.
Those goals include mile markers along her path of recovery — such as standing on her own without help (which she is doing now), and standing up without having to hold on to anything for support (which she is currently working toward).
Izzy travels three times a week to Dallas for therapy at the React Clinic, which is capable of handling a patient with a spinal cord injury, especially for a pediatric patient, which requires specially sized equipment. Sessions are three hours long, so it’s an intensive process. But she’s experiencing steady improvement.
“I tell everyone, it’s a centimeter a day. But it’s all forward progress,” says Shan. “She’s got a long road ahead, but she doesn’t ever moan and complain, because she knows she’s getting better.”
When asked what motivates her to keep working on her physical therapy, she says it’s “just the fact that I don’t want to rely on people to get me stuff. I want to be able to do it on my own.” Her biggest accomplishment so far, she says, is “standing on my own.”
When asked for her advice for people facing challenges, Izzy says, “Don’t quit — because you can make your life a lot better than it is if you try.”
Izzy is now in ninth grade and plans to take classes related to drama, algebra, Spanish, and helping to manage the soccer team. And she’s receiving support from many sources. Beyond her family and friends, the community of Jenks has come together to offer support and help. She has even received visits and messages of encouragement from numerous celebrities — among them Bob Stoops, Lincoln Riley, Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Cody Johnson, Steven Tyler and others.
Right now, a big challenge is raising the funds for her ongoing therapy, some of which is not covered by medical insurance. For those who wish to support the Kittermans in paying for Izzy’s rehab, or to offer moral support, you can check out Izzy‘s Facebook page. Donations can also be made in Izzy’s name to the React Clinic in Dallas, which is a nonprofit. Donations made to React should be marked “For Isabella Kitterman” in the memo line.
15046 Beltway Dr. | Addison, Texas 75001
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