Katie Kaiser put on her new white uniform Friday afternoon before stretching, counting and running with the rest of the karate class. At times, only her little fingers and feet were visible because the “gi” was so big.
But the four-year-old’s excitement never faded.
“Katie,” her instructor (sensei) said, “you have earned your uniform.”
“Ossu! (Yes Sir!)” she answered in a muffled but excited voice.
The Lakewood girl’s symbolic message to the heart condition that failed to slow her down is equally succinct.
How about a little “Ya!” with a few punches to the gut? Was that clear enough for you?
Katie is a fighter, a trait she’s shown since birth at Madigan Army Medical Center in October 2005. She was born with hypoplastic left heart, a condition in which the organ is underdeveloped.
Seven months and a few prolonged hospital stays later, she received a heart transplant.
It marked the beginning of a grueling fight that most people – let alone toddlers – never have to face. After the procedure, she had to learn things that come naturally to most kids, like sitting upright or keeping down food.
The pigtailed fighter took a ceremonial step in her progress Friday. Katie earned her traditional martial arts outfit from the Washington Karate Association in Lakewood.
The gi symbolizes that Katie has gained adequate knowledge of her kihon, the fundamentals of karate, and is ready to work toward her first belt, an orange.
The ceremony had special meaning for her parents, John and Laurie Kaiser.
“It’s everything we could have hoped for, dreamed for,” John Kaiser said. “There were times in the hospital where we didn’t know if she was going to be around. To come from having that conversation to watching her get her gi, it’s a prayer answered.”
Laurie Kaiser watched proudly as her little fighter appeared in class in her white outfit.
“I think she looked great,” she said. “She’s still going to have challenges as things come along, but this is huge.”
Read more about this story in Saturday’s News Tribune.