University of Indianapolis senior athletic training major Katarina Rieker said she is recovering and beginning to walk again after having three major surgeries and one smaller procedure.
Rieker was in an vehicle accident on Interstate 65 northbound when she was on her way to school on the morning of Friday, Sept. 5, 2014. She said she was taken to Methodist Hospital via LifeLine helicopter with leg, head and chest injuries. There were no other vehicles involved in the accident.
“I don’t really remember anything from Friday or that first week I was in the hospital, but I remember driving on 65 that morning,” Rieker said.
Rieker was driving her brother’s truck the day of the accident.
Rieker said she was in a smaller accident on I-65 on Wednesday, two days prior, when she was driving to practice for athletic training for Marian University.
“My car was getting an estimate done on it, so I was driving my brother’s truck that day,” she said.
Rieker said the short list of her injuries included multiple broken bones to both legs, ribs and left shoulder; multiple soft tissue damage and trauma to the left knee and left ankle; significant road burn to the left leg; internal trauma to the spleen and left lung; and trauma to both eyes.
“The first night I was in the hospital, I had surgery to repair my ankle and foot because I kept losing the pulse in my foot,” Rieker said.“They rushed me into surgery a couple [of] hours after my accident to save my foot so I didn’t lose it.”
Rieker said the following Monday after her accident, she had surgery to fix the broken tibia plateau and torn meniscus in her right knee.
“Sometime in the first week when I was in the hospital, they drained the fluid or the blood out of my left lung, and that’s when my lung collapsed,” Rieker said. “I just had to do breathing treatments for that, though.”
Rieker said that as her recovery has progressed, they have found other injuries.
“I had actually broken a couple [of] bones in my foot that we didn’t know about when I was in the hospital because of my ankle that they fixed, and then I had so much swelling, and they just didn’t know,” Rieker said.
Rieker had her last surgery four weeks ago to fix the torn soft tissue and stability components for her left knee.
She said being in athletic training has helped her throughout the recovery.
“When I was going to PT [physical therapy] rehab and doing exercises at home, it [all] makes me understand more of the progression part of recovery,” Rieker said. “To me, before my accident, I just thought you could move on updating or making stuff more intense with exercises, progressing it to be more of a workout or making it harder for them and thinking it didn’t take that long, maybe a couple days at a time. But going through it actually makes me realize, wow, it’s really hard, and you have to work at it to be able to move on.”
Rieker said she is learning a lot being on the opposite end of the recovery process.
“It’s so different being on the receiving end than telling people what to do, giving them stuff to do, or telling them what’s wrong,” Rieker said. “I’ve never really hurt myself before this, so it’s kind of opened my eyes up.”
Rieker said she was in a wheelchair for exactly 12 weeks after her accident.
“My whole third month of being in the wheelchair, I was working on my motion and preparing myself to walk,” she said. “I didn’t walk for 12 weeks, so I had to prepare my body to be able to handle that.”
Rieker said that the most reassuring part of recovery was being able to see progress.
“My first day [walking], I saw the doctor in the morning, and I had PT that afternoon,” she said. “I stood and took my first steps for the first time, and I was really emotional being able to do that again.”
Since her last surgery a few weeks ago, Rieker said she is back to working on motion for her left knee and continues to build strength in her right leg.
Because of Rieker’s accident, she has qualified for two different military research studies.
“One is for Wounded Warriors, because the injuries I sustained from my car accident are consistent with someone in the military who is deployed overseas, being in a Humvee and hitting an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] or even being in an area that is hit by explosive devices,” Rieker said. “With my accident, they can gain information from my injuries and recovery and put it towards veterans when they come home from being injured. It’s nice to give back, since I have four brothers in the military.”
Rieker is currently taking online courses to keep from being away from school for an entire year. Her current plan, depending on recovery, is to graduate in December 2015.
“I’m just ready to do more,” she said. “And be normal again.”