Katie Mathews is just like other 20-year-olds. She wants independence, her own apartment, and is working toward attending college. But Katie is not like other young people just starting off in life. A car crash on Interstate 75 four years ago almost ended her life. For the Venice High School athlete, it did end her mobility. Mathews is partially paralyzed from the chest down.
Tampa Bay Online reports that since the car accident, life has been a series of small victories. First, she lived. She finished high school and was homecoming queen. Then she learned to dress and feed herself. She now lives in an apartment complex filled with others who are recovering from brain and spinal injuries. Mathews has accomplished something else. She is Ms. Jr. Wheelchair Florida.
“Everything in life, whether good or bad, is for a reason,” she says optimistically.
Teen Auto Accidents
Florida statistics from 2009 show that auto accidents are the leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 19.
Distracted driving is blamed for the May 6, 2006 vehicle accident that almost took her life. In an SUV at 80 mph, Mathews was a passenger in a car driven by her friend Chloe West, 16. When they found they had overshot an exit, West turned suddenly but lost control of the vehicle which rolled four times.
Today Mathews does a lot of public speaking about bad decision making and distracted driving. That night she was going to a party without her parents’ permission.
“I want to keep everybody, if possible, out of my situation,” she says.
It is said that kids who won’t listen to anyone, will listen to Katie.
Mathews will share her story as the keynote speaker on July 24 at the Hillsborough County annual Disability Awareness Expo. She has plans to study psychology in college. She wants everyone to understand that the disabled can live full lives. She wants the public to become comfortable with people in wheelchairs or those with disabilities.
“I want people to know (disabled persons) are people too. This doesn’t make us mutants or anything.”
The Hillsborough County Alliance for Citizens with Disabilities Awareness Expo will be held at the Museum of Science and Industry, 4801 E Fowler Ave. in Tampa on July 24. Go to their website at www.hillsboroughcounty.org/liaisons (click on ADA Liaison).