By Tamas Mondovics
It was as if someone ordered the rain to stop and the sun to come out for but a few minutes when Army Sgt. Katie Thomas, 29, arrived to her Lithia Ridge home last month from the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.
As Thomas and her mom Kathy Powers pulled into her driveway the two were cheered on and welcomed by loved ones, family and friends along with dozens of flag-waiving residents.
Katie, the oldest of three, also has two brothers who served in the Army. She was an operating room specialist at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu for nine years before she was medically retired, following an injury she suffered while stationed in Hawaii, which left her with an anoxic brain injury needing full-time care for the rest of her life.
“It’s been a long journey for Katie,” Kathy said adding that her daughter spent the last three years at the VA’s Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center following the life changing accident.
Kathy who has quit her job and moved from Tennessee to Valrico to be closer to her daughter recalled that Katie and her boyfriend were both in the Army and had gone mudding in Katie’s new hard top Jeep, during one rainy day in March 2014.
The two were later found unconscious due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Katie’s boyfriend, a decorated officer who did several tours in Afghanistan and was shot a number of different times and not expected to live, died at the scene.
The Jeep’s tailpipe reportedly got clogged while the two were navigating through the mud which resulted in the cabin filling with carbon monoxide and robbing them of oxygen.
Katie is considered to be in a minimally conscious state. She cannot speak, walk, or sit on her own.
“Homecoming day, however, was not a day to mourn the past, though, but to celebrate that Katie is finally stable enough to allow her to live outside the confines of a hospital,” Kathy said.
“This means so much to us,” Kathy said of the emotional homecoming adding that the Lithia Ridge community has been very supportive. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
At the time of her accident, Katie had completed her college courses and had aspirations of attending Officer Candidate School.
To organize Katie’s welcome home, residents were hoping to get as many residents to attend as possible, which became a bit worrisome due to the stormy weather forecast.
Rain or no rain, a large crowd patiently waited for Katie as well as enjoyed the singing of the National Anthem by 20-year-old Makaylah Caschette, a neighbor, followed by a baton-twirling routine.
The family is also collecting donations towards gift cards for Kathy to get things needed for the house for Katie.
For more information and to support the family, please visit www.facebook.com/sgt.katieswarriors/.