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Life & Work with Katie Banister

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katie Banister.

Hi Katie, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series on the day I was born. Too far back? Okay, let’s keep it moving. I grew up in the Lou and graduated in 1983 from Kirkwood High as “Most Likely to Win an Oscar” and then in 1987 with a BS in Recreation at then Central MO State U. I love organizing fun. Being the 6th of 7 children taught me to sink or swim and it wasn’t easy but really, what is?

It was 1990, I was 25, and got the job of my dreams as a social director for an apartment community, and four days later I was a passenger in an SUV that rolled over. In an instant, I was a quadriplegic and paralyzed from the chest down. But please, not pity. Compassion, yes. Pity, no. I’ve been striving to find the beauty in the bad ever since. I did tell my occupational therapist, “I’m not leaving rehab until I can put on my own lipstick!” She found a way for me to do so, and more. I don’t need to be a Barbie doll but feeling more female again was a motivator.

After six months of rehab and 15 months living with my parents, I returned to independent living in 1992 with the help of my younger brother. I hire my own caregivers and consider myself a disability educator. I like to connect, collaborate and communicate. One of my many messages is “bad things happen – and it is our reaction that makes the difference.”

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Life using a power wheelchair is nothing I ever thought about before. I never knew someone who had. But a few weeks post-injury my mom introduced me to a man who had. We had a really good discussion and he gave me a lot of useful information about the disability culture.

The disability is difficult, yes, but the dependency is way more difficult. I have to wait for everything; to eat, to pee, to get dressed, really everything! My fingers no longer work. I can give you a strong hug but I can’t cut my food.

People stare at me. I know looking at a person’s paralyzed body is interesting and sometimes hard not to look at. But please people, look me in the eye and say, “Hello.” I like to people watch too and I love saying hello to others when they need it.

Doctors are blessings and pains. They need a lot of disability education. Please, I am not confined to a chair – with the help I can get out. Instead ask, “How long have you used a wheelchair?” “What is your disability?” “How did you become disabled?” Also doc, offer more real info on diet, exercise, and mindfulness. Medicines are not the only healers and some medicines if used incorrectly can harm.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a speaker, author, poet, singer, actor, and collaborator. Whatever I feel I have to share with the hopes it will be helpful, entertaining, and my therapy. Creativity and communication are my lifelines to peace and well-being. I can write poetry and have a friend who puts them to music. My CD, “Beauty in the Lou” is the result.

I’ve authored five books; a children’s book, a caregiving guide, a collection of poetry, a short book on karma, and my 2021 memoir “On a Roll” which I’m currently turning into a play. I’m working with a theatre company and we hope to produce it on 22/23. I am so excited.

What sets me apart from others? My ability (and need) to share my experience and serve as a resource. Whether I’m talking on the phone to a newly injured person or performing, I want to be an example of compassion, honesty, and whole lotta humor!

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
I seek and find. I’m not afraid to pick up the phone to find the resources and information I need. I truly believe in “word of mouth.” So many good connections come from “a friend of a friend,” so I let others know what I need and ask them if they can offer any advice.

I found my therapist, jobs, dates, and cute clothes just by asking. But it is essential to be polite. Don’t just start babbling but instead say, “Hey, do you have a quick minute? I don’t want to take much of your time but here is what I need./am looking for.” If they say “no” try someone else.

Be someone people want to help. Be honest, confident (even when you’re not, lol) and do your best. This has been my life’s practice so much so that now I get a lot of calls, “Hey Katie, do you know someone who…”

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