Accident changes teacher’s life, not her outlook

Katie Tusing, 30, sits inside her parent's home in Mount Jackson on Thursday. Tusing, an Ashby Lee Elementary School teacher, is recovering from an accident. A benefit is being held Saturday at Cave Ridge Vineyard to help with her medical expenses. Rich Cooley/Daily

MOUNT JACKSON – Katie Tusing met Doug about six weeks ago.

She was introduced to him through her doctor. At first, Tusing was a little uncomfortable with Doug; he was going to take some getting used to. There were some trust issues in the beginning, but that was to be expected in any new relationship. But now, they spend a lot of time together. And after just six weeks, she’s actually come to depend on him. In fact, for the majority of hours in the day, the two are attached … literally.

Doug is the nickname Tusing has given her prosthetic leg.

Jan. 15 was the day Katie Tusing’s life changed forever. Tusing, a 30-year-old Mount Jackson native, and her boyfriend Dillon Frazier were awakened in the early morning hours to what Tusing described as a “crunching noise.” She went to the window and saw that, right outside of the house, there had been a car accident. Someone had hit a utility pole.

“I woke up Dillon and we went out to help,” Tusing said. “We were walking down the driveway and then I blacked out. That’s about all I remember.”

Katie Tusing

What she’s been able to piece together, with the help of her mother Linda Ritenour, was while Tusing and Frazier were walking down the driveway, the guide wire that was attached to the utility pole snapped and hit Tusing in her right leg, breaking both her tibia and fibula.

After 9-1-1 was called, Tusing and Frazier were both taken to Sentara, where Frazier was diagnosed with a serious concussion, several cuts and bruises, and road rash. Tusing was stabilized and taken to Charlottesville, where, after 11 days and multiple surgeries, doctors told her she was probably going to lose part of her leg. After finding out that she’d still be able to walk, run, go to the gym and just be independent, Tusing told the doctors to do what they had to do. The doctors removed Tusing’s leg from the knee down and started her on a long process of doctor visits, physical therapy and adaptation.

“The standard response you get, when you’re in a situation like this, is ‘Everybody’s different,'” Tusing said. “Everybody progresses differently. I think that, sometimes, the people that work with this, the therapists, doctors and stuff, in their heads they can kind of gauge. I think a lot of things play into it, be it personality, physical condition before and all that, so they can kind of figure out somebody’s progress timetable, but they can’t ever say, ‘Hey, you’re going to be walking in eight weeks.'”

Prior to the accident, Tusing was used to going wherever she wanted whenever she wanted, never having to worry about how she was going to get places much less the actual process of movement. But now, she explained that patience is one of her biggest struggles because her mind and body don’t always cooperate with each other.

“It’s a really long process, learning to walk again,” Tusing said. “It’s a mental struggle sometime because you spend all this time waiting to get a prosthesis, and then you can, and then oh, there’s more waiting to do. It’s really hard to be patient especially when you’re used to being up and on the go.”

The one thing that’s been constant through this whole ordeal, Tusing explained, has been her support system. Between her family, friends, colleagues at Ashby Lee, where she teaches second grade, and general outpouring of love and support from the community, Tusing realized how blessed and how lucky she was, despite the injury.

“This is one of those things that, when you’re from a small town and you’ve only ever lived in a small town, you don’t realize how great it is to be part of a small town,” Tusing said. “That’s one of the reasons we agreed to do this (the interview) because we had talked about taking out an ad in the paper because I know that there have been people along the way that we have missed thanking and we just want everybody to know how truly and genuinely appreciative we are of everything that everyone has done. Be it prayers, financial support or helping me get through tough days, everybody has been truly amazing.”

Jacob Bowman, who has been friends with Tusing since they were in high school, has not seen a change in her personality, noting she’s still the energetic positive person she’s always been.

“(I’ve noticed) nothing but positivity,” Bowman said. “She’s an amazingly strong woman. Obviously, anybody who’s gone through something like this, it’s going to affect them, but she’s stayed extremely positive and we’re proud of all her accomplishments thus far.”

Bowman and his wife Jessica, who teaches with Tusing at Ashby Lee, have organized a benefit to help offset some of the costs of the accident, as well as celebrate Tusing’s recovery. The benefit is scheduled from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Cave Ridge Vineyard, 1476 Conicville Road in Mount  Jackson. The cost of entry is a $20 minimum donation. Food will be provided by Baker Farms and there will be music by the Foundry Project. All proceeds will go directly to Tusing.

For those who can’t attend the benefit but would still like to donate to Tusing and her family, a gofundme page has been set up online at www.gofundme.com/katie-tusings-accident-recovery.

But despite suffering a life-changing injury, Tusing and her family have chosen to focus more on the “life” aspect and less on the “changing” part. She explained that she’s planning on returning to Ashby Lee to resume teaching in the fall and plans on going back next week to say goodbye to her students, most of whom she hasn’t seen since the accident.

But more than just returning to work, Tusing’s aim is to return to a normal life, one where she’s back to being independent and, if she feels like it, can dance at a moment’s notice.

“A dude in the hospital promised me, a year in, I’d be back and I’d be dancing and stuff, so I’m going to hold him to it.” Tusing said. “So next January, the world better look out for some very bad dance moves!”

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