WESTBROOK - In many ways, 11-year-old Kate Jorgenson is like other kids her age. She's active and energetic.
But she's also very different from a lot of kids, not because she recently lost her left arm in a farming accident, but because of her unstoppable determination, positive thinking and her refusal to accept unspoken limitations.
Kate's courage seems to amaze everyone, including her parents, Jim and Nikki Jorgenson, of Westbrook.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Kate Jorgenson is joined by her parents, Jim and Nikki, for a photo Monday.
"Kate hasn't put any limits on herself, that's for sure," Nikki Jorgenson said. "She's pretty determined."
The Jorgensons said they take their lead from Kate.
"She just wants to go out and do her best and I think she gets her strength from all the people in our communities that have been supporting her. It has been awesome support."
Despite the challenges that might lie in front of her, Kate hasn't showed any signs of resignation due to her lost limb.
"I wouldn't say it's really complicated, it's just really different," Kate said.
THE DAY THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
Kate's unexpected journey began on the afternoon of June 17, while she and her 14-year-old brother Jack were picking rocks across the road from the family farm. The siblings had just finished and were heading home with a full load of rocks.
"She was picking rock with a side-by-side," Jim Jorgenson said. "That's a Ranger UTV. She was just across the road from us. Something shifted and spun out of control."
Immediately after the accident, Jack Jorgenson called his parents, who met Kate as she was walking to the house.
"Her arm wasn't completely severed, but it was close," Nikki Jorgenson said.
"I went to call 9-11, but realized that Kate was walking and was coherent, so I said, 'Get in the truck, we're going to town.' Then I called the (Westbrook) clinic and said we were coming in and what the situation was, so they were ready for us."
Within 40 minutes, Kate was being airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.
"The doctors did reattach her arm the night we got there," Nikki Jorgenson said. "They spent about eight hours in surgery reattaching it.
Two weeks later, unfortunately, Kate and her parents learned the arm would likely have to be amputated because of blood clots and infection.
"We just couldn't get rid of the infection," Nikki Jorgenson said. "It got to the point where the doctor said, 'I will do everything I can to save her arm, but I won't risk losing her life.' We explained that to Kate, and that was a very hard decision, of course, to be made. But she was so brave."
Jorgenson said that when Kate awoke from surgery, she rolled over, held their hands and told them not to cry.
"She said, 'I'll be OK. I'm blessed that they got that poison out of my body,'" Jorgenson said. "Kate's been that way ever since. She's handled it with a lot of grace."
Jim Jorgenson said that Kate spent three weeks at North Memorial.
"She had nine surgeries in 16 days," he said. "We're so proud of her. She's inspired everyone around her."
The Jorgensons said they are extremely grateful for the incredible outpouring of love and support that has been shown to their entire family.
"It's not a path we anticipated or would have chosen, but there are a lot of incredible things that have happened since that day that wouldn't have happened," Jim Jorgenson said. "You know how people say things have spun out of control? Well, for us, things have spun into control."
Nikki Jorgenson believes that people in Westbrook, Walnut Grove and surrounding communities have helped Kate stay positive throughout her ordeal.
"I think the communities have helped her keep that good attitude because she's had so much positive support from them," she said. "
While she was hospitalized, Kate received countless letters, gifts and well-wishes, Jim Jorgenson said. Kate's friends also visited her and sent her gifts. One friend made bracelets for her.
"I didn't know so many people cared," Kate said. "It's pretty awesome."
READJUSTING TO THE NEW NORMAL
It didn't take long for the Jorgensons to realize that Kate was ready to get back to her normal schedule soon after returning home from the hospital.
"She went to Bible Camp the second week she was home," Jim Jorgenson said. "She's also been riding horse and spent the last four Saturdays at a volleyball clinic. And this week, she has fire arm safety."
Early on, Nikki Jorgenson, who teaches fifth-grade at the Walnut Grove school, was worried about Kate attending sixth-grade classes full-time. But again, she was reminded how strong Kate was.
"She's doing great," Jorgenson said. "She uses a cart sometimes to pull along if she has a load of books. We also got her some Dycem pads to use on her desk. You put your notebook or paper on it and it keeps it in place. Other people use both hands. But the pads have been helpful."
The Jorgensons also purchased a few kitchen tools for their daughter to use.
"It's pretty remarkable when you Google those sites and obviously, she's not the only one in this situation, but there's a lot of things out there that can help her," Jim Jorgenson said.
Nikki Jorgenson said Kate also taught herself how to tie her shoe with one hand.
"She's pretty determined to do things independently," she said.
SPECIAL EVENTS FOR KATE
While Kate was still hospitalized, members of the Westbrook-Walnut Grove volleyball team joined together with organizers of the Loggers Junior Olympic volleyball program to plan a special event. Kate was a member of the Logger JO volleyball program this past spring and has been a student manager at home games for the WWG Chargers.
"They wanted to do T-shirts and asked her what she wanted the shirts to say," Nikki Jorgenson said. "She thought about it for a few minutes and I said, 'Kate, did you come up with that?' She said, 'well, I read it.'"
The motto Kate selected - "Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the moon" - mirrors Kate's mental state since the accident.
"That's kind of been Kate's attitude through this whole ordeal, that she can still do many, many things and she's not going to let anything slow her down," Jorgenson said. "She's had a really good attitude."
Since Kate's favorite color is orange, organizers planned an "Orange Out" for Thursday night, when WWG volleyball hosts Southwest United.
"They chose Oct. 10 because Kate has a cousin (Courtney Place) who plays for SWU," Jorgenson said. "We'll have a lot of family there and it'll be a good game."
A Whopper Feed runs from 4:30-7:30 p.m., followed by the C- (5 p.m.), B- (6:15 p.m.) and A-squad (7:30) volleyball matches. There is also a raffle, which includes a mini iPad, Beats headphones, a rifle, gas cards, grocery cards and more. Tickets are $10 each.
Along with a number of individuals, the Jorgensons also noted that the Lions Club had donated concessions proceeds from a recent football game to Kate. Kiwanis in Westbrook also made a cash donation. On Sunday, the Women's Club in Westbrook is having its fall turkey dinner at the Westbrook Community Center. The proceeds go for Kate's rehabilitation, recover and medical expenses.
The Jorgensons have seen their daughter gain a lot of inspiration from other people who are dealing with similar challenges in their lives, including a recent point guard who was signed at the University of Florida.
"Our doctor at the Mayo Clinic told Kate she had to look up this young man who was born without part of his arm," Nikki Jorgenson said. "We also Googled one-handed piano players and found there's a zillion things out there."
Kate had asked if she could still take piano lessons and had continued to practice with one hand.
"There's videos of people playing piano with one hand better than I can play with two hands," Jorgenson said. "And there's music composed for one-handed pianists. Kate's piano teacher, Deb Warner, said, 'Why not?' So she's had a month's worth of lessons already."
Along with other activities, Kate plans to continue playing volleyball.
"She's still working at it," Jorgenson said. "She's very strong. She just has to learn a different way."
The fact that Kate is still young and is at an age where other girls are learning the game of volleyball helps, her mother said.
"It would be different if she were a junior or senior in high school when it happened," she said. "She'll do better at serving and hitting, of course, than passing. In-between the A- and B-squad, they put out pizza boxes and people serve and try to hit them. She won a pizza the other night, so she can serve."
Kate currently doctors at the Mayo Clinic and with a Maple Grove company called Advanced Arm Dynamics.
"The upper limb is (Advanced Arm Dynamics) specialty," Jim Jorgenson said. "Kate's next appointment is Nov. 22. They're looking at doing another procedure, a nerve re-intervention, to reconnect those nerves in the muscles."
The procedure will likely give Kate the option of using a prosthetic limb in the future.
After witnessing their daughter's resiliency and determination the past three months, the Jorgensons are confident that Kate will never see herself as disabled or someone who has limitations.
Those words will not be in Kate's vocabulary, they said.
"When she sees other people doing something, she thinks, 'Well, it can be done, and if it hasn't been done yet, well, maybe I'll be the one to do it,'" Jorgenson said.