OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- A rare disease robbed Katie Harris of her ability to walk and, for a time, left her partially blind.
But after a powerful bond with a service dog inspired her to find a renewed passion for life, Harris is now on a mission to pay it forward.
“I found my why again,” Harris said. “I had to stop focusing on the things that I can’t do and start finding the things I could do.”
A standout athlete from an early age, Harris dominated on the tennis court, eventually earning an athletic scholarship to Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.
“Tennis really was a big part of my life,” Harris said.
But nagging injuries and frequent joint dislocations were also a constant part of Katie’s life.
“So we would see doctor after doctor after doctor, nobody knew what it was,” Harris said.
Medical experts finally diagnosed Katie’s condition at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in 2011.
“That’s when they said, ‘You have Ehlers-Danlos,'" Harris recalls. “OK, what does that mean?”
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a rare disease that attacks the connective tissue in Katie’s body. In Katie’s case, the disease can have devastating effects on her joints and organs.
“I had my gallbladder taken out and it just kind of disintegrated, went through my body,” Harris said.
While her condition can wreak havoc on her body, Harris is determined to never let it crush her spirit.
“I’m a high school social worker, and I always tell my students: You may see me struggle but you won’t see me quit,” Harris said.
Even so, after a particularly rough stretch a couple of years ago, Katie often struggled to find the will to fight.
“I lost a lot right there, and we didn’t know if it was ever going to get better, and so I became very suicidal in those moments," she said.
As fate would have it, that was just about the time Katie was matched with a service dog, a young miniature Golden Doodle. The feisty little pup seemed to have giant “can-do” spirit, so Katie named her Moxie.
“The impact that Moxie has had on me, there aren’t even really words for it.”
Moxie helps Katie with the little things, like picking up her keys and opening the refrigerator door. But Moxie is also there for the bigger things.
“We are a team and we take care of each other,” Harris said. “And there will be days that I will just break down and start crying and all of a sudden, Moxie will run up and just wrap her little paws around with me and just stay with me.”
So now, Harris and Moxie are on a mission; Harris has even dubbed it “Moxie’s Mission."
With next month’s dog relay event at Bar K, Harris is hoping to raise funds so others can rediscover their passion, with help from a service dog like Moxie.
Katie’s favorite symbol is the palm tree, it’s her newest tattoo on her wrist. She tells FOX4 why “palm tree strong” has become her motto.
“They discovered when hurricanes demolish homes and others trees, they found out that the palm tree is stronger after the storm, than they are before the storm. So everyone that knows me knows: palm tree strong is kind of my title.”