Wharton fundraiser helps former Lamar student

Katie Ondrias

Katie Ondrias and her family need your help! Katie is a former Lamar University student who was on the path to becoming a speech therapist until a tragic and mysterious illness left Katie in a wheelchair and unable to speak or care for herself.

According to Katie’s father, Ronnie Ondrias, Katie started running a low-grade fever on June 25, 2010. She went to the doctor and was diagnosed with strep throat.

“On July 3, 2010, our nightmare began,” Mr. Ondrias wrote in correspondence.

He said that day, Katie’s speech was slurred, and she was unable to walk. He and his wife, Katie’s mother Deana, took Katie to the emergency room. After tests, doctors determined Katie suffered from viral encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, from an unknown viral infection. She was transferred to the closest neurological facility, which was in downtown Houston. There, Katie suffered a seizure and lost consciousness.

“It’s amazing how quickly your life can change,” Ronnie Ondrias wrote.

Doctors had to perform an emergency craniectomy to reduce the pressure on her skull and brain from the swelling. Katie was in a coma. Her family members were told she would likely not survive. But she did survive and is alive today. She struggles to communicate with loved ones and remains wheelchair-bound. Katie’s loved ones do all they can for her, and she has been in and out of hospitals, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes. The extent of her potential recovery is tenuous.

“We’re dealing with a lot of unknowns,” Mr. Ondrias reported. “We know we have an uphill battle, and we try to do whatever we can to help in Katie’s recovery. We continue to pray for full recovery. At this time, she requires 24/7 full-time care. She cannot speak or eat on her own. It has been the most heartbreaking thing we have ever had to endure.”

Before her illness, Katie was studying at Lamar after graduating from Wharton High School in 2008 and held a 4.0 GPA while a college student. She was an active member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority helping collect funds to raise awareness of domestic violence and worked part-time in the alumni office at Lamar. Katie had recently been chosen as an ambassador for Lamar University and earned a scholarship, which she was not able to accept due to her illness. Doctors have never been able to diagnose Katie, and her family still wonders what caused the viral infection. And the insurance companies have made things all the more difficult for Katie’s parents.

“We have had our battles with insurance companies,” Ronnie Ondrias stated.

He explained that while Katie was in one long-term treatment facility, she was approved for and fitted for a wheelchair. They were asked to leave the facility because, as stated in Mr. Ondrias’ letter, “There is a constant pressure on facilities by insurance to downgrade.”

The family chose to send Katie to a skilled nursing facility, or S.N.F.

“When we chose a S.N.F.,” Mr. Ondrias wrote, “we now no longer qualified for the chair because the nursing home is supposed to provide one. The trouble was Katie’s chair cost $8,500 so the nursing home provided us with a plastic shower chair.”

Luckily, Katie had numerous friends and a loving family who have stood by her side and cared for her throughout her illness. But, the high cost of medical treatment and supplies has taken a toll on them, and they are asking for support from the community.

Join Katie’s family and friends at Riverfront Park in Wharton on Saturday, Oct. 5, for the 2013 Run for Katie 5K or visit the website to donate at www.runforkatie.com. Registration begins at 7 a.m., and the run starts at 9 a.m. You can pick up a packet for registration early at the parking lot of Anytime Fitness in Wharton on Sept. 28. There will be live music along the race route and at the event site. Family and children’s activities and entertainment will be available including face painting, horseshoes, moonwalks and performing clowns. There will be a bake sale, and anyone interested can peruse the nearby antique shops or dine in the local restaurants in Wharton.

Katie’s parents said they appreciate all the kindness others have shown them over the last three years.

“We have met some wonderful people along Katie’s journey, and they offer hope and inspiration to us,” Mr. Ondrias wrote. “If Katie could speak for herself today, I’m sure she would thank you for your time, prayers, and any support you might be able to offer.”


Sharon Brooks can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or at sharon [at] theexaminer [dot] com.