The little girl who wasn't suppose to survive more than a few hours at most turned 16-years-old in May 2015. Kellisa endured 22 surgeries, countless seizures, and too many medical appointments and tests to count or even make an educated guess before arriving at her milestone birthday.
Kellisa's first wilderness experience happened on January 1, 2000 with a walk attached to mom's stomach at Blue Springs State Park, FL. 15 years later, to the day, we returned to the park for our first outdoor excursion of the year. We stopped at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge the following day on our drive back home.
Left & Middle- Blue Springs State Park Right- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
We spent a beautiful January weekend day at an animal encounter (Left- girls petting a baby alligator) at Laura S. Walker State Park and a boardwalk hike in the Okefenokee Swamp (Right).
Laurel's ideal hike lasts from 1-2 miles in length. The conditions don't really bother her as she never really complains about rain, snow, mud, or hills. Hikes are always better if she can observe some kind of wildlife, even if it's (non-biting) insects. Laurel can handle multiple 1-2 mile hikes in a day, but anything longer than 2 miles at a time and she loses interest. I keep this in mind when picking trails to hike with Laurel. It had been awhile since Kellisa and I hiked more than a couple miles and I was ready when we had a few unexpected hours to ourselves on a Saturday afternoon. We headed to the beach and hiked over 6 miles across the rugged sand to the sounds of crashing waves and cooled by the ocean's breeze.
Guana River State Park
After going 0 for 3 in my attempts to complete the Bataan Memorial Death March with Kellisa, I decided against an attempt in 2015. I didn't think I was prepared enough to have a legitimate chance to finish with Kellisa. I decided to take the girls to south Florida for spring break. We visited a new national park- Biscayne and spent a few days camping in one of our favorite- Everglades.
Biscayne National Park
Kellisa became a Special Olympian as she competed in several events at the county and regional levels. Laurel is giving a congratulations hug as Kellisa waits to be given her winning ribbon.
I should and do know better! I even had an article published about wheelchairs and the absolute need to have first floor hotel rooms when traveling with a wheelchair.
We flew to Ohio late on Friday evening to meet our new niece. As I was driving to our hotel, I told Lisa that I made a reservation at a hotel that is close to her brother's house, but that I didn't have any loyalty status with the chain. I also realized that I forgot to request a first floor room. I told Lisa that I was too tired to fight if they didn't have a first floor room. As I parked the car, Lisa checked us in and of course, they did not have a first floor room because it was so late, so we took the third floor room. What could go wrong?
Like clockwork, Laurel woke up early and wanted to go down for breakfast. As I was staggering around the room to get ready, we started to hear an alarm. It sounded like someone's alarm clock going off in a near-by room. Laurel and I left Lisa to shower and Kellisa to sleep longer. We walked down the hallway and Laurel pressed the elevators down button. As we stood there and waited, Laurel said, "I smell smoke".
Once Laurel mentioned smoke, I realized that I could also smell something burning. The elevator came and we started to get on when I had second thoughts. To be safe, we went back to the room to get Lisa and Kellisa. We were barely in the room when all hell broke loose. We could hear a man and woman in the hallway, both pounding on doors and screaming, "The building is on fire"!
I know the first and only thought should be getting out safely, but I had two more thoughts as well. First, we need to grab the medicine for the kids. We can't be a 1,000 miles from home without them. And second, we had Kellisa's Hippocampe chair and I wasn't leaving that behind. I also grabbed our bag with all our electronics.
In less than a minute we were out in the hallway which was now full of smoke and people. A police officer was yelling to get out by using the stairs. As soon as he saw me pushing Kellisa, he offered to help. I knew I could get Kellisa (and her chair out safely) and advised him that we were OK. I told Laurel to go and she ran down the stairs, out the hotel and gathered with the crowd of hotel guests in the grass.
I slowly pushed Kellisa down the stairs as people were backed up and screaming. Normally, she would have loved this activity, but she wasn't really awake yet. I knew I could get down the stairs, but I was worried about people pushing. Not a single person pushed and I even heard a few offer to help. We reunited with Laurel outside and we quickly learned that everyone was out of the hotel and safe. I was relieved for only a few seconds. I did an inventory check of everything I grabbed and realized that I didn't have the medicine.
The fire was contained to two rooms, about four rooms down from us on the other side of the hall. I knew our room was safe and if the medicine was in the room, we'd be OK. However, I was worried that I dropped the medicine on the way out and it could have gotten destroyed, ruined or even taken. I had to sweat it out for a couple of hours before the fire chief escorted me to our room to gather our belongings. I was relieved to find all the medicine on the edge of one of the beds. It must have fallen out of my shorts pocket in the rush to evacuate.
The police and firefighters did an amazing job to put the fire out and keep everyone safe and informed. Laurel was very scared at first and several first responders went above and beyond to make her feel safe. Thank you!
We had to move to another hotel and we made sure we got a room on the first floor!
We did get one hike in while in Ohio.
May 23, 2015
Our little 2 pound and 1 ounce micro-preemie turned 16 on May 23, 2015. Lisa had a special "Sweet 16" shirt custom made for Kellisa and I had a weekend planned with all of Kellisa's favorite activities. Since Maine was the only state east of the Mississippi that Kellisa never visited, it would be our destination for her birthday weekend.
Top Left- About to wake up a 16 year old. Bottom Left- Driving. Top Middle- Excited to be at the airport. Middle Bottom- Laurel asleep on our first flight. Right- Kellisa on our first flight.
Left column- Baltimore Airport. Top Right- Kellisa on her 2nd flight.
Bottom Right- Flying over coastal Maine.
Left- Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Middle & Right- Hiking Mackworth Island
Top Left- Birthday presents. Middle Left- Birthday cake & ice cream.
Bottom Left- Birthday dress. Right- Swimming.
Top Left- Island Ferry. Bottom Left- 2nd birthday dinner on an island.
Top Right- Giant birthday cookie. Bottom Right- Laurel "driving".
A very successful Sweet 16 Birthday weekend by all measures, including two passed out sisters!
Laurel turned 6 on June 8, 2015
Forever Sisters (2014)
A Promise Fulfilled (2016)
Back to Kellisa's Path Blog
I started feeling the pressure to travel to our remaining states to hike a trail before Kellisa turned 18 in 2017. I wanted Laurel to complete the goal as well at the same time, so we also had to work towards getting Laurel caught up to Kellisa's completed list. Most of the remaining months were dedicated towards traveling to new states.
Minnesota (Repeat State)
Forever Sisters (2014)
A Promise Fulfilled (2016)
Back to Kellisa's Path Blog
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electric wheelchair with commode