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Making Progress – and a Proposal: Kaytlin Marquess’ Story

During rehabilitation for a spinal cord injury at Shepherd Center, Kaytlin Marquess’ therapy team helped her pop the question.

On the morning of January 25, Kaytlin Marquess was cruising down winding Alabama roads to visit her partner, Katie, when a car pulled out in front of her, causing a collision that shattered Kaytlin’s C-1 vertebra and broke her C-2 vertebra. She was admitted to Huntsville Hospital, and on February 8, 2023, she transferred to Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program.

Kaytlin’s family stayed close by at Shepherd Center’s donor-funded family housing, while Katie stayed by her side, opting to sleep in the hospital room with Kaytlin.

Kaytlin spent two months with her care team, rehabilitating and rebuilding her confidence.

“Kaytlin was an absolute dream to work with. From day one, she showed up to her therapy sessions incredibly motivated, hardworking, creative, and kind to everyone she met,” says Kaytlin’s occupational therapist, Jena Kelly, OTR/L. “To watch her and Katie work alongside one another- through one of the most traumatic experiences was really special to see. They work seamlessly together and truly care for one another.”

One day, as Kaytlin was working with occupational therapist, Jena Kelly, OTR/L, and recreational therapist Nikki Kiley, CTRS, the topic of marriage came up, causing Kaytlin to pause. She had not considered proposing to Katie before, but now, everything was different.

“I knew that my graduation from Shepherd was already going to be an important day for me,” Kaytlin says. “So, it just seemed right to propose that day.”

Kaytlin and her therapy team including Jena, Nikki, Carol Ardanowski, PT, and Hannah Gross, PT/OT Aide, got to work planning out the details until the day finally arrived. On April 18, Kaytlin awoke ready but nervous to graduate from Shepherd Center and transition into her new life with her soon-to-be fiancée.

“I was so nervous,” she explains. “As I watched the clock count down, I got more and more anxious. When Katie asked what was wrong, all I could tell her was that I was nervous that I would have to speak at my graduation. She had no idea I was going to propose.”

When the afternoon finally arrived, Kaytlin and Katie made their way to the Anna and Hays Mershon Secret Garden, where they would meet Kaytlin’s therapy team for the graduation celebration. Jena, Kaytlin’s occupational therapist, presented her with the traditional Shepherd Center graduation tee shirt, rolled up, with a small ring box inside.

“My nerves skyrocketed,” Kaytlin laughs. “I was fidgeting with it the whole time.”

After all of Kaytlin’s therapists had the opportunity to speak and congratulate her on her progress, it was finally time.

“I had all this stuff planned to say,” she explains. “But when it finally happened, I got up there and said, ‘I just want to say thank you,’ and I turned to Katie and said, ‘I especially want to thank you,’ then it just came out, and I said, ‘Will you marry me?’”

As the realization set in with Katie, tears filled her eyes, followed by a resounding “yes,” and many questions like how Kaytlin hid the surprise from her so well.

“Everyone knew except her,” Kaytlin says. “My therapists helped with everything. Although many of our friends and family from home couldn’t be there, my therapists were my friends and family at that point.” 

Now that the couple has returned home to Huntsville, Alabama, they are excited as they look forward to their future together and have already begun planning their wedding. Meanwhile, Kaytlin is making progress and continuing to improve with the support of her family and loving partner.

“We’re feeling good,” Kaytlin explains. “Everyone is excited we are home, and we are excited to be back.”  

Written by Lindsey Rieben

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.