NEW PALESTINE — Kati Robertson doesn’t really remember much about how the accident happened. However, she does recall the actual crash and how it seemed like an event someone would watch on the big screen and not anything that could actually happen to her.
“The crash itself felt like a movie scene,” Kati said. “You know like how a crash happens in a movie? That’s exactly what happened.”
It was Oct. 28, 2022, just after fall break of Kati’s senior year at New Palestine High School. She was heading toward Cumberland from her internship in Greenfield when her life changed in an instant. From what she can recall, a car hit another with such force it pushed the vehicle into her car.
“It just whammed me, on the driver’s side all of the sudden,” Kati said. “I was in the hospital for six days and I’m not sure if I was ever critical, but they did lifeline me to the hospital.”
In addition to needing 35 stitches near her left eye and top lip, Kati had two broken ribs, a broken right ankle, a fractured sternum, a concussion and lacerations all over her body, including one on her left knee where she still has bruises from the crash.
“I was more worried about missing out on my senior year than anything else,” Kati said. “It’s like the worst time this accident could have happened because I was so worried about not being able to finish the school year.”
Fortunately for Kati, who school officials say is a great student, she immediately started to think about falling back into her good habits of wanting to get her schoolwork completed. But, with a concussion and several major injuries, that was easier said than done.
From the day of the crash until January 30 of this year, Kati couldn’t even attend school, missing the whole second nine weeks.
English teacher Caroline Clayton, who had worked with Kati in class and in after-school activities for school musicals and plays, stepped up to be Kati’s instructional helper to keep her on track for graduation.
One of the first issues was getting Kati’s internship with the Hancock County assessor and recorder’s office secured. She had landed the real-work-experience internship in August and was enjoying learning there when the accident happened. County officials agreed to work with Kati, letting her get healthy before she would need to come back to earn credits. Then she began to focus on in-school work.
“We were really worried about the last semester classes, but all the teachers were really amazing and they exempted me from many things,” Kati said.
Clayton noted the fact that Kati was a good student before the accident and had many of the core things being taught that first semester already mastered, so the exemptions were not a stretch.
“It wasn’t even so much of her being a good student as it was her good work habits,” Clayton said. “Because of her habits and the patterns she had shown in class and the way she conducted herself in class with her attention to detail, it was easy for us to say she had hit the benchmarks in her classes and let her move on.”
Kati had been taking dual-credit economics, advanced English, trigonometry and an earth and space class before the accident, with the rest of her school day being spent at her internship as part of the Ready to Work program.
Kati noted the help from Clayton and other NPHS teachers helped her get caught up through the first semester so that when she came back for the second half of her senior year she wouldn’t have to struggle the final few months of high school.
“They helped me with anything I needed,” Kati said.
Clayton recalled how in some of their early educational Google sessions during her recovery, Kati would start to slump over because she didn’t have the strength to sit upright for long periods of time.
“Those concussion side effects were terrible at first,” Clayton said. “We could not meet for longer than about 10 minutes because she couldn’t even sit up that long.”
Understanding that, the teachers worked with Kati to make sure everything would still line up and her credits would be good for graduation as she pushed herself a little further each day.
“Her counselor and teachers worked together and that included switching out some classes so she could still get her honors diploma,” Clayton said. “She worked for four years to get that honors diploma, and we wanted to make sure she still earned that.”
Through emails and Google meetings, Kati kept up and then when she came back in January, she fell back into her old habits of being organized and doing the work.
“She’s had a special kind of senior year,” Clayton said.
Kati took an extra math class her final semester to get everything squared away for graduation and will walk up to the stage and get her honors diploma when her name is called.
“It’s really kind of crazy when you think about this because what happened isn’t something you’d ever think would happen to anyone their senior year and then it does,” Kati said. “It’s just going to be even more crazy to graduate after all of this.”
While the worst of the recovery from the accident is behind Kati, she still has some issues associated with the concussion and mending of the cuts and bruises. However, she won’t let that stop her. After graduation Friday night from NPHS, Kati will focus in on her plans to attend college at the University of Indianapolis. She wants to study history and education so she can become a teacher.
“She’ll be a good teacher because she has the ability to learn, adjust and adapt and as we’ve seen she can do that,” Clayton said. “We will all be so delighted to see Kati graduate after seeing a young person like this injured — it’s a great success story.”