Home > Spotlights > Undergraduate Student Spotlights > SERO Helps Katelyn Toth Regain Independence

SERO Helps Katelyn Toth Regain Independence

AUTHOR: Nina Welding

PUBLISHED: May 12, 2016

Almost one decade later, a Granger woman struck by lightning continues to fight brain injuries she sustained from her accident.

With help from Notre Dame students, Katelyn Toth, now 22-years-old, is getting a new shot at independence.

Her road to recovery has been nothing short of rocky. Katelyn suffered third degree burns across her body. The accident impacted her short term memory, and left her with limited speech and mobility.

Now there's hope on the horizon, not only for Katelyn to gain a new sense of freedom, but also others who suffer similar trauma.

On June 28, 2006, Katelyn Toth and her step-brother were paddle-boating across "Lake of the Woods" near Bremen.

The lightning bolt that struck next would drastically change her life.

“Ultimately she has motor-planning difficulty severe ataxia, which causes her to shake and tremor when she goes to do functional tasks,” said Heather Beaver, Katelyn’s occupational therapist.

Beaver has worked as Katelyn’s occupational therapist for the last decade.

In January, she teamed up with SERO — Student Engineers Reaching Out — to help Katelyn overcome a daunting task.

“We watched a few videos of her trying to eat and just seeing the frustration, I felt like, wow, I really want to help this person,” said Emily Cunningham, SERO member, University of Notre Dame.

Emily and fellow student, Mike Boyle engineered a device allowing Katelyn to eat on her own.

“We wanted something that could be close to her body, because that's what we realized with Kate; her range of motion is a lot better when her arms are close to her body,” said Michael Boyle, SERO member, University of Notre Dame.

Four years ago, Katelyn underwent surgery causing her to lose the ability to feed herself.

“The first bite of food she took was the first bite of food she took to her mouth in four years. It was an amazing moment,” said Beaver.

A function we often take for granted, but for Katelyn, a major step in her recovery.

“Kate was so excited and she was telling us how happy she was and she really seemed as though she enjoyed the process and that meant the world to me,” said Boyle.

The device is constructed from PVC pipes, and comes with the hope to inspire others suffering similar trauma.

“They’ll say, ‘wow, they went to Home Depot and bought $50 worth of supplies, I can do that,'” said Cunningham.

Giving Katelyn a new outlook on life.

“This life changing for her. Again it may seem small to so many people, but to her, not having taken a bite of food in four years, it was magical,” said Beaver.

Beaver says Katelyn will get to take the device home, at least for the summer. Since it can easily come apart and be put back together, it will also allow her to bring it to therapy for practice.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Elkhart has set up a fund for Katelyn to help pay for medical expenses and other needs.

Her family asks that if you would like to help, send or deliver your donation to the church’s address: 30888 C.R. 6, Elkhart Ind. 46514 with "attention" to Shelley Schneider and an enclosed note stating it is for Katelyn Toth.

— Kasey Chronis, WNDU-TV

For more information about SERO and how these students are working with Katelyn, visit Engineering Dignity: ND Students Design and Build for Unique Needs.