A woman who almost died after getting run over by a truck is now ‘almost grateful’ for her ordeal, because it has helped her celebrate her life and accept her body.
Katie McKenna, 33, was hit by an 18-wheeler while riding her bike in Brooklyn almost 10 years ago, in October 2007. The professional fundraiser and occasional comedian, who was 24 at the time, was left with multiple bone fractures and life-threatening internal bleeding.
After 10 hours of emergency surgery, Katie emerged with torn flesh from her bike’s gar shift ripping into her stomach, and flashbacks that would later haunt her.
Survivor: Katie McKenna (pictured), 33, was hit by an 18-wheeler while riding her bike in Brooklyn almost 10 years ago, in October 2007
Injuries: The professional fundraiser and occasional comedian, who was 24 at the time, was left with multiple bone fractures and life-threatening internal bleeding
‘My body was fractured, stuck with tubes, covered in fresh wounds and surgery scars. I looked down at legs that were attached to my body that refused to do what I asked them,’ Katie, who has penned a memoir about her recovery, wrote on the book’s website.
In the first chapter of the volume, she described how she was waiting at a red light next to the truck that eventually hit her, and thought she had clearly signaled her intention to turn to the driver.
‘I always communicated with truck drivers via their side view mirrors,’ she wrote.
‘I spent a lot of time behind trucks on interstate 80 on my trips from college in Ohio back to my home in New York. Every one of their signs specifically said “IF YOU CAN’T SEE MY MIRRORS, I CAN’T SEE YOU.”
‘My assumption was that the opposite was also true—If you can see my mirrors, then I can see you. Another complete misconception.’
While it is true that drivers cannot see another person if that person cannot see their mirrors, the opposite is not always true. Being able to see the driver’s face in the mirror increases the chances of them being able to spot that other person.
That morning, the truck driver did not see Katie, as she recounted in her memoir.
‘Before I even really realized what was happening, I felt this pressure and I heard cracking,’ she wrote.
‘The realization that the cracking was my bones shocked me. I felt the first four wheels of the truck run over my body. I didn’t have the time to process the pain, all that I could think was, “Sweet Jesus, please let this man stop before the second set of wheels comes for me.”
‘”No, no, no, please God no”—was what I remember shrieking before the second set came for my already crushed middle.’
Changes: Katie (pictured with her boyfriend) struggled to accept her new body, which bore the marks of the crash and had limitations that, as an active 24-year-old, she wasn’t used to
Journey: For at least a year, Katie (pictured with her book) didn’t look at her body unless she absolutely had to. But little by little, she learned to celebrate it
Katie laid on the ground in ‘crushing pain’, her bike ‘tangled up’ in her legs, while strangers called for help. An ambulance eventually took her to the hospital, where Katie discovered the extent of her injuries.
‘The truck had broken every rib, punctured a lung, shattered my pelvis, and ripped a hole in my bladder, causing internal bleeding so severe that I received my last rites while in surgery,’ she wrote in an essay published by Shape earlier this week.
Having survived the ordeal, Katie started her long road to recovery. She struggled to accept her new body, which bore the marks of the crash and had physical limitations that, as an active 24-year-old, she wasn’t accustomed to.
‘During my recovery, there were so many moments when I despised my body because it was so shocking to look at. It was such a huge change from what it was only a few weeks before,’ she wrote.
Account: The first chapter of Katie’s memoir includes chilling details about the crash
‘There were staples, caked in blood, that went from my lady parts all the way up to my sternum. Where the gear shift ripped into my body there was just exposed flesh. Every time I looked under my hospital gown, I wept, because I knew that I’d never go back to normal.’
For at least a year, Katie didn’t look at her body unless she absolutely had to. But little by little, she learned to celebrate it not for what it looked like, but because of what it could do.
Doctors warned her she might not walk ever again, but her legs ended up recovering, to the point that Katie could do ‘a mean granny-style power walk’ and exercise on an elliptical machine.
When her boyfriend, Patrick, who had been supporting her throughout her recovery, started training for a half-marathon, Katie was tempted to imitate him, but knew it wasn’t in the cards for her.
Instead, she set herself her own challenge, and went the same distance on her elliptical machine, at a brisk pace of seven minutes and 42 seconds per mile.
Her outlook on exercise changed as she became more accepting of her body. While Katie used to view activity as a way to compensate for eating treats, she new views it as an empowering practice.
Movement: Doctors warned Katie she might not walk ever again, but her legs ended up recovering, to the point that Katie can now exercise on an elliptical machine
Wins: Along the way, Katie (pictured watching the 2017 solar eclipse) has learned to celebrate her small steps through recovery, such as being able to go on a hike with friends
The way she talks and thinks about her body has changed, too.
‘I was an incredibly harsh judge of my body before the accident—sometimes it felt like it was my favorite topic of conversation,’ she wrote.
‘I feel especially bad about what I said about my stomach and hips. I would say that they were fat, disgusting, like two flesh-colored meatloaves attached to my hipbones. In hindsight, they were perfection.’
Along the way, Katie has learned to celebrate her small steps through recovery, such as being able to go on a hike with friends when she was afraid of not being able to keep up.
‘After a seriously intense recovery that included emergency surgeries and serious physical therapy, not to mention panic attacks and flashbacks that would hit me dozens of times a day, today I can say that I feel almost grateful for getting run over by that truck,’ she added.
‘Because of my experience, I’ve learned to love and appreciate life. I’ve also learned to love my body beyond what I ever thought possible.’