By Molly Campbell
Katie Kniss was driving down Supply Road on October 27, 2006, when a truck, cutting a curve, hit her head-on and burst into flames. Katie and two of her children were trapped, and though the people in the car behind her were able to get the children out, it took a state trooper ramming the flaming truck away from Katie’s car, along with the Jaws of Life, to get Katie out.
The Fife Lake native kept bleeding out and was not expected to survive her injuries, which included a traumatic brain injury, fractured sternum, broken pelvis, nerve damage in her right eye, internal bleeding, and a crushed right foot. It took her husband Josh—a member of the Marine Reserves who, at the time of Katie’s accident, was in a fight for his own life in the middle of a gun battle in Fallujah—four days to get home to her. And after she was at last released from the hospital a month later, Katie suffered what would be the first of two miscarriages. And, after physical therapy determined that she had to either have ankle fusion or have her leg amputated, she opted for amputation at the age of twenty-nine. It took her six years, she says, to begin to feel like herself again due to her traumatic brain injury.
And yet, for all this, Katie says she wouldn’t change what happened to her. “The traumas and tragedies are what make you stronger,” she says. Katie and her family were still reeling from the hardships they had suffered. Josh just getting home from Iraq, their one vehicle totaled, and with Katie recovering from her injuries—it was the support of their incredible community that helped them make it through.
Katie’s son Hayden was also in the hospital while she was injured, with bowel obstruction from his seatbelt, and her in-laws came down from the Upper Peninsula and stayed by his side the whole time he was there. The Community of New Hope gathered around them and began to help wherever they could, cutting down trees and insulating the Kniss’s house, and holding a spaghetti dinner to raise money. Cherry Capital Chevrolet (now Serra) gave them a car. People donated money, and Toys for Tots and Grand Traverse Academy donated Christmas presents. Carolers stopped to sing to them, and Katie received letters of encouragement and lots of prayers.
“It was overwhelming how supportive and encouraging everyone in the community was,” Katie says, adding that, “God had all the right people in the right place to take care of every moment.”
Thirteen years after the accident, Katie still has some short-term memory loss, but she and her family are thriving, living in the home they built on three acres in Traverse City. Josh loves his job as a Sargent at the county jail, and they have four kids between the ages of 19 and 11. The community still plays a considerable role in Katie’s life, including in her motivational speaking work and her job as an Arbonne consultant.
“I love helping other people to realize their greatness,” she says. She started working for Arbonne after some initial hesitation when a friend sent her some products, and she fell in love with them. At the time, she had been working two part-time jobs on nights and weekends so she could stay home with her kids. Still, after four months of working for Arbonne, she fell in love with the people and the culture of the company and was able to quit both jobs and work just for Arbonne, where she gets to live her ‘why’ and inspire other women, building a supportive community.
“I’ve found a tribe of other women who want to overcome and live life to the fullest and leave a legacy,” she says.
“At the end of the day, the only thing that we leave behind is a legacy. What I want to leave as my legacy for my family and the community is that I changed lives and helped other people.”-Katie Kniss