Katelyn Toth smiles at everyone, but not everyone stops to talk with her.
People see 20-year-old Kate, who was hit by lightning in 2006, has tremors and needs help walking, and they sometimes head in the other direction, her mother, Julie Noblitt, said.
Kate’s family hopes getting Kate a service dog will change that.
They hope people will ask to pet the dog, giving Kate a chance to interact.
“Kate wants to participate,” her aunt, Cathy Snow, said. “She likes to help and she likes to be included.”
Snow is organizing a fundraiser for the $6,000 the family needs to get a service dog for Kate.
Eight years ago, Snow was the family member who gave Julie Noblitt the news that her 12-year-old daughter was still alive after being struck by lightning.
Noblitt was at work in Elkhart on June 28, 2006, when she got a call from her daughter Lexi, Kate’s younger sister.
The two girls were at their dad’s house on Lake of the Woods in Bremen, and Kate was in a paddleboat when a storm suddenly came up.
Noblitt couldn’t understand what 10-year-old Lexi was saying on the phone, because there was a lot of noise in the background.
“At first I thought the girls were bickering,” Noblitt remembered. “(Lexi) finally said, Katelyn’s been struck by lightning and we don’t know where she’s going yet.”
Noblitt’s instinct was to get to her daughter as quickly as possible, and she jumped in her car to race to the hospital.
But no one knew where the little girl was being taken for medical treatment and they weren’t answering their phones when Noblitt called.
Finally, Noblitt’s sister-in-law, Cathy Snow, called the frantic mother and reported Kate had been airlifted to a South Bend hospital.
“She said, ‘Julie, just breathe. Be careful. She’s alive.’”
When Noblitt got to the hospital, a clergyman met her.
“When you get to the hospital and you are greeted by a clergyman, you know you are in trouble,” she said. “We were led into a room to wait, and just pray. Because we didn’t know.”
The lightning strike left Kate with a brain injury that affects her speech and motor skills. She’s had surgeries at the Mayo Clinic, but she still struggles with body tremors and other difficulties.
But doctors’ initial prediction that Kate would never walk or speak again hasn’t come true.
Kate walks with the help of a walker or she leans on a family member. For longer distances, she rides a motorized scooter.
She speaks too, with effort.
She easily handles shorter, one or two-word sentences, but when she wants to say more she uses an iPad app called Verbally.
She’s able to type out what she wants to say, using just one finger, and the app “speaks” for her.
Kate has new hobbies now, too.
Before her accident she was active in sports — volleyball, basketball, softball — and played the clarinet.
Now she spends time riding horses at Reins of Life in South Bend, and she loves baking anything sweet with her aunt Cathy.
Kate also works during the school year, on projects for The Elkhart Truth with the help of her paraprofessional, and at Mane Event hair salon in Elkhart, where she folds towels and tears foils for highlights.
She wants to someday work with animals, become an interior decorator or an architect, or work outdoors.
Noblitt says she’s impressed by her daughter’s ability to always push herself past what she thinks she can do.
“There have been times when there have been tears, and frustration and mad ... but the perseverance in this young lady is amazing,” she said.
Besides helping Kate interact with others, a service dog would also fetch things for her, help her walk or stand up and teach her responsibility and independence.
HOW TO HELP
A fundraiser for Kate is happening from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 19, at the American Legion, 25751 U.S. 12, in Edwardsburg.
The event will include a pasta dinner, cash bar, raffles, a 50/50 drawing and a silent auction.
Kate’s family is asking for a minimum donation of $10 for people who would like to attend.
To purchase tickets or donate to the silent auction, contact Cathy Snow at 269-699-5588 or mail a check made out to Julie Noblitt to 68501 Scott St., Edwardsburg, MI, 49112.
Tax-deductible donations can be made by writing a check to Trinity Lutheran Church in Elkhart and indicating that the donation is for Kate’s fundraiser.
More instructions about the event or how to donate online can be found on the Facebook page, facebook.com/KatiesCanineCompanion.
All of the proceeds will go to pay for a service dog for Kate from Midwest Assistance Dogs in South Bend. Any extra money collected will pay for the upkeep of the dog, including vet bills, food and other items, or it will go toward Kate’s medical bills.