KNOWN IN REAL LIFE AS:
Meet Wonder Katie (Katie Michalec) at the Akron Marathon on September 28.
View a course map.
Meet Wonder Katie
Katie Michalec, Age 15, from Tallmadge, Ohio
Why Katie is an #ACHero: Born premature, tiny Katie had to work hard to gain strength, develop and overcome obstacles from the start. With her strong will and determination, Katie has achieved every milestone along the way and has grown to be a very kind and capable young woman.
Sidekicks: Her mom, dad and brothers, especially twin, Cory, and her teacher, Ms. DelSonno.
When she’s not busy overcoming obstacles: Katie is a loyal friend to others, especially her twin, Cory. She enjoys playing basketball and golf, as well as keeping things extremely organized at school and at home. An avid animal lover, Katie also loves to pet sit for her neighbors and friends
Did you know fact: Katie is an expert-level Lego builder. She’s built more than 50 Lego sets, including master buildings, trains and carousels.
Katie’s Story: Tiny twin Katie Michalec was born at 26 weeks, 2 days and faced a mountain of medical uncertainties. For nearly 3 months, Katie overcame incredible odds to graduate from the NICU, but her medical journey wasn’t over.
“I knew I was a high-risk pregnancy because I was carrying twins, but I felt great. When the doctor told me at 24 weeks I was in preterm labor, I couldn’t believe it,” said Tiffany. “When the twins were born, they were so tiny … I was so scared for them.”
Katie weighed in at just 1 pound 12 ounces and was 13 inches long.
“Katie looked so, so tiny,” said Tiffany. “I was worried about both of them, but outwardly she looked much smaller than Cory so I thought she would struggle the most. At the time, I didn’t understand what our journey was going to look like… The only thing I knew was we were where they needed to be.”
At Akron Children’s NICU, doctors intubated Katie who was still too fragile to open her own eyes. Katie was diagnosed with bronchopulmonary dysplasia and immediately hooked up to a ventilator to help her breathe while her lungs continued to develop.
“As she got stronger, they’d take her off the ventilator to breathe on her own, but just as that was going well, she seemed to catch every infection possible,” said Tiffany. “When people tell you having a baby in the NICU is a roller coaster ride, they aren’t kidding.”
Thankfully, Katie began gaining weight, breathing and fighting off infections on her own. On April 21, a couple weeks before her actual due date, Katie finally came home.
Still on oxygen and a monitor to watch her vitals at home, Katie had a list of follow-up appointments to keep in the NICU and with specialists – pulmonology for her lungs, urology for her kidney stones and ophthalmology for her eyes.
Just before her first birthday, Katie had a seizure. Two weeks later, she had another and more came over the next 6 months.
“Nobody could pinpoint why she was having them. We had test after test run, but no firm diagnosis,” said Tiffany. “A couple years later neurology diagnosed her with febrile seizures, which they said she’d out grow.”
The seizures were hard convulsions and caused changes to her personality and loss of memory.
“At Children’s, they understand how medical complexities work and how kids work,” said Tiffany. “We never wanted to hold Katie back from trying or doing something that interested her. If the doctor didn’t say no then we didn’t either.”
Katie began riding her bike, playing basketball and enjoying childhood.
Katie also started integrated preschool, which included peers with and without disabilities. Katie had to leave her twin brother’s side a few hours each week and make new friends, which was hard for the otherwise shy girl.
“I was always worried she’d have a seizure at school but, thankfully, she only had them when she was with me…divine intervention,” said Tiffany. “It took until she was in 5th grade for the seizures to stop.”
Being premature also put Katie at increased risk for having some level of learning disability or developmental, visual or hearing impairments. Katie suffered some hearing loss at birth, but nothing that has negatively impacted her ability to learn or socialize.
Today, Katie’s medical journey has slowed down, but her determination hasn’t. She still works hard to accomplish goals in the classroom and follows her coaches’ instruction as an athlete on the basketball court and golf course.
“We are so proud of everything Katie and Cory have accomplished in their 15 years,” said Tiffany. “We’re even more proud to be their parents!”