My daughter is changing perceptions of disability
Throughout the first two years of our daughter Katie’s life, we thought we were going to lose her multiple times.
She had the toughest start.
At just 5 months old, she had three open-heart surgeries because she had a hole in the heart.
During it, her heart stopped beating three times.
She spent her first few years in and out of hospital, was tube-fed.
But Katie’s always been a fighter.
At 2½, her health started to improve, and she was finally discharged. ‘Take her home, love her and treat her like your other girls,’ the doctor said. From then on, Katie, now 33, has never let her disability hold her back. You see, she has Down’s syndrome, a genetic condition that causes some learning difficulties and certain physical characteristics. Determined not to segregate Katie, my husband Tom, 65, and I tried to open the door to opportunities. Katie’s always done everything her sisters Christy, now 36, and Kelly, 31, have done. Like them, Katie played the piano, took part in sport, had swimming lessons. She even became a gold medallist in gymnastics at the Special Olympics in 1999. Katie also went to the same mainstream school as her sisters. Sociable, she made heaps of friends. But it wasn’t always easy. Sometimes she’d come home from school in tears. ‘Mum, they threw stones at me,’ she’d wail. Cruel kids stuck gum in her hair, called her names. But Katie found the strength to overcome it. Refusing to let the bullies beat her, after leaving school she got a full-time admin job at a treasurer’s office. And, in 2005, Katie was invited to become an ambassador for Best Buddies, an international organisation offering volunteering, friendships, employment and leadership development to people with disabilities.
She spoke at conferences in front of thousands, inspired people from across the globe.
Then, in June 2015, she got a phone call…
‘Katie, we’d like you to be involved with our brand,’ Kenny Kahn, the CEO of Beauty & Pinups, a luxury hair and make-up brand, told her.
‘Yes!’ Katie shrieked
Cruel kids stuck gum in her hair, called her names
afterwards, jumping for joy.
He’d heard about the work Katie had done with Best Buddies.
And, after meeting her a few times, Kenny had a proposal for Katie.
‘We want you to be the face of our new hair-mask product,’ he announced. Wow! ‘We named it Fearless, and there’s nobody as fearless as Katie,’ Kenny told me later.
‘I’m worried,’ I admitted to Tom. ‘They’re putting my girl out into the big, scary world.’
But once I’d met the Beauty & Pinups team, it put my mind at ease. They were wonderful.
‘They have Katie’s best interests at heart,’ I told Tom, reassured.
I was always videoing my girls dancing around, trying on pretty dresses, blowing me kisses. So Katie was a natural in front of the camera.
Now she’d landed herself a proper modelling job.
A few weeks later, a photographer and stylist were flown in from LA.
They arrived at our house for the shoot.
‘This is so exciting,’ I said, giving Katie a massive hug.
‘I feel like a true model,’ Katie beamed, the camera flashing away. ‘You are!’ the team told her. The pictures looked amazing. I’ve never been prouder.
Katie was proving you don’t have to be a certain shape, size, race or ability to be a model. She broke all the boundaries. She’s the first-ever model with Down’s syndrome to be the face of a beauty brand.
I have to do a double-take when I see her face in the supermarket!
Now the sky’s the limit for Katie. Since her shoot, she’s been on TV in Australia, and has been in umpteen magazines and papers.
She was even flown to New York for one interview.
And, last September, fashion and beauty website Refinery29 launched their Redefining Beauty campaign, with Katie as one of the faces.
When Katie was born, Tom and I had no experience of people with disabilities. It was daunting. I hope Katie’s story will help other parents. I want to show everyone there are no limits to what people with a disability can achieve.
We’ve always known Katie’s beautiful inside and out.
Now the whole world knows it.
She was a natural in front of the camera
Family support We tried to give our girl opportunities
Katie didn’t have an easy start