“My mom and I have a joke about the rulebook with me: you pick it up and throw it out the window,” Denver Online High School Senior, Kaitlin Hooks, said. “I’m a lawbreaker,” she laughed. And lawbreaker she is, her life packed full of experiences in defeating countless health odds.
Hooks was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at ten months old, battling with health complications ever since. She explained that Cerebral Palsy can take two forms: For some it impacts their cognitive abilities while leaving their physical and speech aptitude as normal, while for others their cognitive skills are normal with speech and physical capabilities compromised. Hooks said she has the latter form, enduring thirteen surgeries to date for physical needs.
She also currently lives with severe Acid Reflux, requiring her to use a specialized pump to intake her body’s nourishment. “I have a central line that goes to my heart. All this white stuff is my food for the whole day,” she said pointing to the material in the tube. “It goes through this central line to this,” pointing to her heart, “that pumps it out to my whole body.”
While a simple runny nose can cause most of us to stay home for the day, Hooks’ health obstacles rarely slow down her determined character. She recently was selected as a Children’s Hospital Colorado volunteer where she will volunteer three to four times every week. “I’ve been wanting to do it since I was in middle school,” she said. As a volunteer, she will lead activities with the kids at the hospital when their parents are away. She is also in the midst of training for the Courage Classic: a three-day, 157 mile bike ride in June that tours over five mountain passes to raise money for the hospital. When asked why she likes volunteering for the hospital, she said, “I’ve been sick all my life. Children’s has given me so much that I feel like I need to give them as much as I can. Because without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
The go-getter has also participated in multiple events with Denver Online High School. She recently volunteered with the Denver Online High School National Honor Society to help Habitat for Humanity build local housing. She also volunteered her time to help lead a Denver Online High School organized Tie-Dye Party for patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
To practice for her dance tryout, she even performed her routine for Denver Online’s faculty in the main office. She also read twelve books over the summer and recently submitted a picture she photographed to participate in the Denver Online High School Art Show at the Denver Art Society.
While it’s obvious from her resume that grit is one of her main ingredients, her college search tested her spirit. Applying to roughly ten schools, she met a low when a Florida college returned her application with a disheartening message. Hooks explained, “They said, ‘We don’t want you because of your handicap.’ And I thought, ‘is that what it’s going to be like with every school?’”
But discouragement instantly changed to pure delight when she got the news that she had been accepted at University of Colorado Boulder. “It was a complete surprise,” she said, “I had been rejected by so many other schools. ‘No I don’t want you, no I don’t want you.’” But as she read the acceptance letter on her computer, she said, “I screamed! My mom and grandma came running into my room,” asking her what was wrong. “I was completely speechless. I just kept pointing at the computer. When they saw it, they started screaming.”
“My grandma is a three-time lung cancer survivor,” she said. This experience, paired with her heart for kids, inspired her to seek a major in Biology or Physiology with a strong interest of eventually entering the Pediatric Oncology field. But while she is very eager to get started in her classes, describing how she’s ready to get down to business, Hooks said she is most excited about, “finding me and being totally independent.”
This major milestone is especially of great significance after acknowledging the educational journey she has taken to get to this point. Hooks started her freshman year at Denver Online High School so that she could complete coursework around her doctor appointments, earning the Mayor’s Youth Award as a ninth grader. However, a family move pushed her to try other closer options. For some time, she sampled another online school. However, she noted, “They were just not very nice. I had already had a taste of Denver Online and nothing can compare to Denver Online.”
Then entertaining a traditional brick-and-mortar school, an assault by a peer caused an unfortunate turn of events. After the peer was expelled, Hooks said his friends became angry, explaining, “His friends decided to beat me up. They kicked, they punched, they called me awful names.” With broken ribs and a cracked tibia, she said, “I was terrified to walk back in that school. I called Casey [Denver Online High School Counselor] and he welcomed me back with open arms. I could absolutely no way thank Denver Online enough. There’s no possible way.”
At Denver Online, she said she feels like she has a “second family,” not only with the staff, but also her fellow peers. After participating in the Habitat for Humanity service project, she met a new impactful friend, Adelle Sutton. Sutton came to Denver Online so that her education could more flexibly fit around her ballet career. “I just think she’s awesome,” Hooks said. “She helped me pick out my graduation dress.”
So with a beautiful new graduation dress to wear, an inspiring friend to meet up with, a “second family” cheering her on, and a CU Boulder acceptance letter in hand, Hooks is ready to make that final walk across the high school graduation stage. For a girl that doctors claimed would never walk, that walk will certainly be one to remember.
With a life worth learning from, Hooks said she would give people one bit of advice: “Don’t let people tell you what you can and can’t be. Find out for yourself.” Because sometimes…it’s okay to be a lawbreaker.