Blog

From Paralysis to Motherhood, She Never Gave Up

Posted on January 9, 2019 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Read Katie Morillo’s Profile Here & in The New York Times

Makayla, 11, holds tight to the motorized wheelchair of her mom, Katie Morillo, 34, as they maneuver their 15-minute ride through Bronx streets to arrive at St. Ignatius, Makayla’s new middle school, an affiliate of Catholic Charities NY.  This marks Makayla’s first school ever to offer a ramp and elevator, making this year the first time Ms. Morillo could watch her daughter in a school play, attend a parent-teacher conference or participate, face-to-face, in her daughter’s school life. 

The wheelchair broke, however, temporarily putting the mother-daughter commuting extravaganza on hold.  So Catholic Charities NY drew on $650 in The New York Times Neediest Cases funds to cover the copay needed to fix the wheelchair.

Katie Morillo used to be a rushing New York commuter, writes Remy Tumin in this just-released New York Times Neediest Cases article. She knows all too well that people are trying to get where they’re going as quickly as possible — and are easily frustrated by anything that slows them down.

Now she’s on the other side of the equation.

When Ms. Morillo was 20, a car accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. She now uses an electric wheelchair…

On the New Jersey Turnpike, another driver changed lanes, colliding with the car in which she was riding in the back middle seat, without a seatbelt.

“It was like a movie — the car was turning and turning nonstop,” Ms. Morillo recalled. She estimates that if had turned one more time, it would have ended up on the other side of the guardrail in oncoming traffic.

Everyone but Ms. Morillo got out of the car with only a few scratches, she said.

“Everyone is getting out, but I’m wondering, ‘Why am I not moving? I can’t get out,’” she said. “That’s when I realized that both of my legs were behind me.”

She had fractured her spine.

“A lot of people assume because you’re in a wheelchair your life stops,” Ms. Morillo said.  “I was one of those people.  “

Ms. Morillo says she is trying to raise Makayla to have the same resilience as her mom.  But the odds of success are low in their Hunts Point neighborhood, designated one of the poorest in the nation, a place where teens are more likely to join gangs than finish high school.  The high school graduation rate in Hunts Point public schools is 35 percent. 

So Ms. Morillo successfully enrolled Makayla in St. Ignatius middle school, a tuition-free middle school in Hunts Point with a prep school-like vibe.  The student-teacher ratio for the 79 neighborhood children, grades six, seven and eight, is 9 to 1.  It includes mandatory five-week summer leadership programs held in Lake Placid, NY as well as before and after-school enrichment.  The summer program and extended day help students thrive while allowing low-income parents to work without concerns of paying for afterschool care or leaving their children to the influence of the streets. Moreover, St. Ignatius staff follows students for the remainder of their educations, helping them apply to and land scholarships at high-rated high schools and universities.

“You realize when something like this happens to you that we’re all the same; we all can be independent,” Ms. Morillo says.  “Mikayla is my inspiration for not letting my disability stop me.  I want her to see that mommy’s doing it and she can do whatever she wants, too.”

Learn more about St. Ignatius School

Read Katie and Makayla’s full story today in The New York Times