When Katrina Gallic was entering high school, one of the things the future pro-life advocate was most excited about was being a sprinter for the track team.
“The thrill of being able to run very quickly — I loved it when I was a kid. I thought it was so fun,” said Gallic, now 23.
Running was one of the few constants Gallic had. Gallic had grown up in New Jersey, but, at the start of her freshman year, in 2009, her family moved to Colorado, where her father would be working as a principal at Holy Family High School in Broomfield.
One Friday in September Gallic started to notice shooting pains in her legs in advance of a track meet she was set to run at later that day. During the race the pain in her legs only worsened. “By the time I finished the 5K, I thought I was going to pass out,” Gallic said.
On Saturday, the pain intensified. By Sunday, she decided it was time to go to the hospital. Gallic hobbled into the emergency room. “That was the last time I walked for several weeks,” she said.
In the hospital, doctors discovered that Gallic had a rare condition known as spinal cord cavernoma — a small mass of blood vessels in her spinal column swelled when they started bleeding, cutting off communication between her central nervous system and her legs. Not only is the condition rare, but the rapid progression of her paralysis was unusual even for those who do suffer from it. Normally, it takes weeks or months for the condition to set it, not days, according to Gallic.
“For me to become fully paralyzed in three days at 14 years old is like winning the wrong lottery,” Gallic said.
Over time, the swelling came down, but, because of the location of the problematic blood vessels, her condition was inoperable, meaning that the paralysis could come back anytime if the vessels started leaking again. Gallic would spend a month in the hospital, undergoing physical and occupational therapy as she learned to walk again.
It took a while for reality to sink in. Gallic recalls watching The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian in her hospital room one day and watching a scene where one of the characters is running. “It kind of dawned on me, ‘Oh my gosh, I might not never be able to do that again,’” Gallic said.
Gallic had once wanted to be a sprinter. Now she would just be lucky to walk again.
“The goals — they were small,” Gallic said.
Gallic left the hospital walking with the help of crutches and leg braces. At school, she would need the help of a wheelchair to get around. Instead of focusing on the challenge that lay ahead, Gallic said she concentrated on making sure she gave her recovery her best.
Gallic also leaned on her faith. “She took things in stride and completely — I mean 100% — relied on her faith,” said David Good, her cross-country coach.
Three months after her injury, she only needed the braces.
Then, in her sophomore year, Gallic returned to sports. She joined the junior varsity softball team. She also ran cross-country in the fall. Then, in the spring, she tried track. Gallic was no longer fast, and she still had to wear a brace on her right ankle. So, instead of sprinting, she decided to focus on events that required more upper body strength — throwing discus and shot put.
Gallic would go on to be a state champion in both events. In her junior year, she placed in the top 10 for shot put and top 20 for discus. As a senior, she ranked in the top 10 for discus and was second in the state for shot put, breaking her high-school record.
Her recovery ultimately reinforced her faith. As a middle-schooler, Gallic said she “fell into” her faith. But her injury forced her to make it her own. She started to ask fundamental questions: Did God exist? Did he love her? And, if so, why had he allowed her to suffer? She found herself blaming God, but instead of abandoning her faith, she turned to prayer to work through her feelings of resentment.
“It was her experience of faith and her love of Christ that changed her life,” said her father, Tim Gallic.
The summer after her sophomore year, his daughter visited family in New Jersey. One morning she attended daily Mass with her grandfather and was struck by the words of the priest, recounting the breaking of the bread during the Last Supper.
“Suddenly, everything clicked. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he broke the bread — obviously,’” Gallic said. She realized that the Eucharistic Bread had to be broken to be transformed into the broken Body of Christ on the cross.
Then Gallic reflected on her own experience of being broken — not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. “I was broken in this way to be transformed to be like Christ,” Gallic said.
Attending college at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, Gallic’s faith was further nurtured by seeing how committed her classmates were to theirs. Then, during a study-abroad semester in Rome her sophomore year, she had another breakthrough on a trip to Lourdes. Gallic had the opportunity to take a dip in the spring at Lourdes, which is reputed for miraculous healings.
Before she entered, Gallic simply prayed for peace and joy. When she stepped out of the water, nothing changed — at least physically: When she wiggled her toes, they were still numb. Later in the evening, a classmate asked her to tell her the story of her paralysis and recovery. As Gallic did, she noticed something different — she could talk about her struggle without her heart beating fast, without the unrest and anxiety she usually had. Finally, she said she felt at peace with what had happened to her.
She also realized that she had been angry at God over her paralysis. “But I didn’t know him personally in my heart, and how could I blame somebody for something if I didn’t know who they were?” Gallic said. And so, Gallic resolved to get to know God on a personal level.
“I knew him certainly mentally, having been taught by my parents and in school, and I did know him personally; however, not very deeply, and I was holding on to misconceptions of who he is. And it was in a commitment to frequent daily prayer and the sacraments where I came to know him more deeply and personally and to know his love personal love for me,” Gallic said.
The pain in her legs returned in the spring and summer before her senior year. It was so severe that anything that touched her below her knees led to a stabbing pain. Her spinal cord cavernoma was acting up again, but this time it was operable — thanks to a surprising movement of the affected blood vessels and advancements in technology, according to Gallic.
“It was not something that I thought was going to be possible, except for in an extreme situation,” Gallic said.
The surgery, which was done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, proved successful. It ensures that Gallic won’t have to worry about paralysis in the future, but the damage that has already been done isn’t reversible. Today, the only visible sign of her struggle with paralysis is Gallic’s slight limp.
Besides strengthening her faith, Gallic’s experience has also guided her in her professional vocation. In 2017, as a college student, Gallic spoke at the March for Life Rally on the Capitol Mall. After graduating, she joined the organization that organizes the events, also known as the March for Life, as a special assistant for communications.
Gallic says that during her time in the hospital she saw others who were physically vulnerable, deepening her appreciation for the dignity of the human person. That conviction has led to her pro-life activism, Gallic says, where she advocates for those who are completely vulnerable: the unborn children in the womb.
In retrospect, Gallic says her paralysis has become a sort of a gift. “In a way, I was like ‘Okay, I have the gift of having gone through a pretty serious physical challenge in high school. Lord how do you want to transform that? What do you want to do with that?’ And right now it’s working for the March for Life.”
Register correspondent Stephen Beale writes from Providence, Rhode Island.