For Kat Taylor, having a hand would be crippling.
She tried once, when she was four years old.
It was a prosthetic fitted for her left hand, but Kat pulled it off, threw it at her mother, Paula, and yelled, “I don’t need this; I already have two hands.”
That’s the tenacity that Kat has approached everything with, her parents said about their daughter who was born with one hand.
“When she was growing up, anytime I thought I’d have to be concerned for her, she would just figure it out — she was so quick to figure stuff out; she’s so strong,” Kat’s father, Peter said.
Kat can be proud of graduating with a 3.9 grade point average and securing a future at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as a graphic design major with a minor in theater.
What strengthened her, though, Paula and Kat agreed, was facing down the name-calling and finger-pointing, handling the frustration of not being able to open a bag of chips or sharing secrets meant for a best friend with family.
“My mom, my aunts and my grandma were the people I would hang out with,” Kat said. “They were the girlfriends I didn’t have at school.”
But that’s the kind of strength Kat was born with.
At one point during Paula’s pregnancy, the doctors couldn’t hear Kat’s heartbeat and thought Paula had miscarried. That was when Kat’s hands were forming.
“This baby’s a fighter,” the doctor said to Paula, after they found her heartbeat again.
Kat, 17, stands tall, brown hair curled, modeling vintage garb and a dash of gold jewelry.
She has learned to tie her own shoes, curl her own hair; even shoot a bow and fish with her brother and dad.
She types at her job as a receptionist at Marquardt Toyota and Scion, sometimes “pecking” the keys with her left hand.
“If something is hard for me, I have to mentally say, “Kat, you can’t let something stop you.”
And she hasn’t. Kat is a Chi-Hi Harmonics star, theater buff, volleyball power-server and softball outfielder, even though once she catches a ball, she has to whip off her glove, grab the ball with her right hand and toss it in.
But Kat said it’s on the stage where she feels she truly belongs.
Kat attended Catholic school before heading to Chi-Hi, making the switch in part because of its highly regarded music and arts departments.
“We cannot thank (Chi-Hi) enough for all they have done for her,” Paula said. “She found her place in that department with her friends and her teachers; they’ve had a huge impact on who she is.”
Kat didn’t make Harmonics her freshman year, but she was busy with varsity swim team, anyway. The following year, Kat prepared for her Harmonics audition with the help of a couple friends. This time, she got in.
“I was intimidated,” she said. “They were so good. But I tried it and I fell in love with it; I fell in love with the feeling of being onstage.”
Kat worked up to her first solo this year, suppressing the anxiety of knowing everyone would be staring at her.
“I knew I could rock it,” she said. “Onstage was where I was confident and I found myself. That’s why I want to minor in theater; being onstage helped me become who I am, it helped me overcome self-doubt.”
Kat’s best friend, Cassie Pearson, said sometimes when Kat looked out into the audience, she could see kids whispering and pointing at her.
“That hurts her that people see that about her,” she said. “I say the kind of people who do that aren’t people who will be able to appreciate her truly.”
Kat was given her first prosthetic with the help of her sponsor through Shriners Hospital, where she often attended camps, but she said her best option is to stick with what she’s got.
“I’ve learned to do so many things without a hand, I would just feel like I would have to relearn everything,” she said.
When Kat was about one-year-old, her parents considered the option of removing a few of Kat’s toes to be stitched to her hand and later stretched through multiple surgeries.
“We said we couldn’t make that decision for her, we couldn’t do that to her,” Paula said.
“For that, I’m truly grateful,” Kat said.
Kat said one option involves connecting a mechanical hand to nerves which would enable her to have some control over her hand.
But she said a process like that would be difficult, since her arm is so developed.
Another option is to take a hand from an organ donor, but that would include a number of surgeries, physical therapies and medications.
“I’m given this one chance,” she said. “I’m going to make it work as best I can.”
Future looks bright
Kat is a little nervous for college; she won’t be able to rely on her mom anymore as a failsafe alarm clock, but she said she’s dead set on becoming a graphic designer.
“I just want to get out there and do the things I love,” she said.
Her parents said Kat has always had a passion for art; she could always be seen scrapbooking, painting, drawing or singing.
“Being passionate about something is what makes a person who they are,” Kat said. “You need to have a drive in life, something that’s going to have you hold onto your dreams because they make you happy.”
Kat said she’s looking forward to the opportunities that will open for her in college, adding she’s excited to see what other options she can pursue.
“I always told her she’s going to make a difference,” Peter said.
Paula said they are blessed to be Kat’s parents and that she has taught them what it means to be strong-willed and determined.
“It’s been so wonderful to be on this journey,” Paula said. “She is definitely our hero.”
“We need to be satisfied with who we are to be genuinely happy,” Kat said.