When Katie Gerke was a child all she wanted to be when she grew up was a horse. That would have been impossible, yet the way life actually turned out has been next to impossible. Katie was born in Saskatchewan and moved to Drayton Valley with her family at an early age. When she was 15, the family moved to Calgary. Both parents were alcoholics; her mother died from cirrhosis of the liver when Katie was only 19 years old.
When Katie Gerke was a child all she wanted to be when she grew up was a horse.
That would have been impossible, yet the way life actually turned out has been next to impossible.
Katie was born in Saskatchewan and moved to Drayton Valley with her family at an early age. When she was 15, the family moved to Calgary. Both parents were alcoholics; her mother died from cirrhosis of the liver when Katie was only 19 years old.
Nevertheless, by her early twenties, Katie had a career as an x-ray technician and was off to Saudi Arabia to work in King Fahd National Guard Hospital on contract. She enjoyed exploring the other side of the world.
One day after strenuous exercise, she stood up and one of her legs gave out. She wrote it off as having done a little too much.
One wobble turned into other wobbles. Soon after, at the age of 24, Katie was diagnosed with MS. She loved to travel, but now she was back in Alberta for good.
Today, Katie is completely paralyzed from the neck down. There is no doubt there have been many dark days. At one point, though not a senior herself, she had to live in senior´s care. This is the reality when there are not enough resources for younger people in need of long-term care in Alberta. Depression was a regular companion.
Yet, Katie´s story is also one of hope and inspiration.
Katie still had her brain. She still had her mouth. She realized she could curse reality - or she could work to change it.
She felt compelled to share her knowledge and experience with others, whether government officials, non-profit organizations or those doing research.
"I can modestly say I am a ´gold mine of information´ when it comes to progressive MS, current research and long-term care at the Dr. Vernon Fanning Centre," she says.
Yet, Katie was still restless. She took an art class, though previously she had only ever done paper tole - a technique of turning two dimensional images into 3-D art popular in the 1980s.
She developed her new artistic skills, working with acrylics and making broad strokes, while holding a paintbrush in her mouth. She admits she´s a perfectionist, focusing on details and always trying to make things just a bit better.
She had a website built, and now sells cards and artwork online. But the message is so much bigger than that. It´s a message of triumph over adversity, of making the best of what you´ve been given.
Maybe it would have been easier to become a horse. Still, Katie is making magic with what she has, understandably sometimes finding the road hard -- and sometimes managing to create hope and inspiration for herself and others.
"I did have 20 years that were really tough," she says. "But the last four have been really good."
Those interested in purchasing holiday cards or gifts from Katie Gerke can order online at: oralart.ca