Twenty-five years ago, an automobile accident changed Bobbi Kay Lewis’ life forever. However, with the support and positive attitude of her family, coupled with genuine faith, Bobbi Kay’s natural “can do” spirit and passion for life remained strong.
“I earned my undergraduate degree in Advertising from Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Stillwater in 1993,” Bobbi Kay said. A year later, she had almost finished her second semester in a Master’s program at OSU when she was involved in a serious car accident. “I was with two friends in Oklahoma City, and we were almost through the intersection when a lady hit the rear passenger quarter panel of my car. The impact sent us spinning and then we hit a large utility pole head-on. The second impact broke my neck.” Bobbi Kay was in the hospital for 11 days and then transferred to the Kaiser Rehabilitation Center at Hillcrest Medical Center in Tulsa. “I was in that facility for three months and learned how to do everything all over again!”
Following an additional two months of outpatient rehab, remarkably Bobbi Kay started a new job at the Cleveland American, her hometown newspaper in Cleveland, Oklahoma. “Aside from family, friends, and faith, I credit getting that job as being the catalyst for me to have a happy and successful future,” Bobbi Kay said. “Living in a small town has its benefits. A friend of a friend told the publisher of the newspaper that I might be a good fit for the advertising job he was trying to fill.” Returning to live with her parents after the accident and adjusting to her life in a wheelchair was difficult for the young, twenty-something college graduate. “I had always been very active and was ambitious to be productive. The fact the publisher had the confidence to hire me was wonderful. I was thrilled to have a job where I could utilize my degree. The opportunity to work with and help promote the businesses in my hometown gave me a new purpose. The job was a great fit and a safe haven for me.”
The challenge of her job with the newspaper helped Bobbi Kay keep a positive focus and, she believes, contributed significantly to her ability to maintain an optimistic attitude. “With too much time on my hands and nothing meaningful to do, I could have easily fallen into a depression,” she said. “Of course, I had moments of sadness, but I didn’t allow myself to give in to dark thoughts. I believed I was going to get better, and for the longest time, I thought I would walk again. Although that didn’t come to pass, the hope and belief were transforming.”
After working at the newspaper seven years, Bobbi Kay felt that she was ready for a new challenge with new possibilities. “I decided to go back to school and pursue my Master’s degree again even though I had to start over as it had been too long to apply the credits I had earned before the accident.” In addition to her BS in Advertising, an MS in Mass Communication, in 2009 Bobbi Kay earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Social Foundations of Education, all from OSU.
“During the time that I was working on my graduate degree, I went back to physical and occupational therapy with the goal of being able to self-catheterize,” Bobbi Kay said. “I did not have the dexterity to self-cath, which greatly inhibited my independence.” A therapist taught Bobbi Kay how to use the Asta Cath female catheter. “I want people to know about that device. It was life-changing for me!”
Additional therapy and the catheter device provided Bobbi Kay with the independence she needed to move to Stillwater to work as a teaching assistant at OSU while she completed her Master’s thesis. “Yet another door opened for me, and this experience ignited an excitement for teaching in me.”
Bobbi Kay’s professional career at Oklahoma State University has flourished. She is now an associate professor in the School of Media & Strategic Communications. As Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Outreach and Communications, she oversees online courses, study abroad, and many noncredit programs, as well as leading the communications efforts for the College. “I’ve had this position for four years, but it still feels new,” Bobbi Kay said. “That’s an indication of how much I love this job. I’ve built a wonderful team, and I believe we are making a difference for OSU.” Before becoming assistant dean, Bobbi Kay served as associate director of the School of Media & Strategic Communications.
With a firm foundation in communications, Bobbi Kay’s contribution to advocacy efforts for individuals with disabilities is thoughtful and compelling. She recently participated, along with Kyle Romano and Jenny Siegle, in the first live Unite4CRT Facebook Town Hall meeting (@unite4CRT). Created by NRRTS, the group’s purpose is to provide an outlet for CRT users to share their unique stories and educate through personal experience. “I think our first Town Hall meeting provided some good information and I’m looking forward to participating in more,” Bobbi Kay said. “I’m excited to be working on this grass roots effort! It will be a valuable tool to help reach our goal of bridging the gap between the perception and the reality of living with a disability.” Bobbi Kay has attended the annual CT conference in Washington, D.C. the past two years. “The experience was exhilarating, and I was thrilled to be a part of it. However, I was somewhat discouraged by the lack of genuine interest from the health care liaisons we met,” Bobbi Kay said. “In one instance, after I briefly told my story, the liaison’s response was, ‘I don’t doubt there is a need, but who is going to pay for it?’ I’m excited to go back to Washington, and I hope to work more on trying to get the media involved to increase the volume of our message. We need to get the able-bodied community more involved.”
Bobbi Kay is also interested in effecting change to make new construction generally more accessible. “I would like to see at least one entrance to every new home that doesn’t have steps and one ground floor bathroom with a wide door,” she said. “This wouldn’t be that difficult to incorporate into new house construction and could also make houses more marketable.”
Certainly, Bobbi Kay has some insider help when it comes to construction ideas. Her husband, Daniel, currently owns his own construction company. “Daniel and I designed our house together. He built our home on nights and weekends in 2014 while working full time at a commercial construction company.” The two-story house, located on 20 acres 15 miles outside of Stillwater, has a wheelchair lift to the second floor and concrete floors, among other features, to accommodate Bobbi Kay’s wheelchair. “It was an exciting project for us to do together, and our marriage survived!” Unfortunately, a lightning strike that recently hit their home resulted in extensive fire damage. The couple will live in a temporary location while they rebuild and can return to the peaceful country setting they appreciate and enjoy.
Daniel and Bobbi Kay met in a karaoke bar following the first OSU home football game in 2007. “Daniel entered the karaoke contest, and he was the hit of the night,” Bobbi Kay said. “When he left the stage and passed near me, I told him that he did a great job. He looked at me with a straight face and told me that if I had really liked his performance, I would have gotten up and danced.” Bobbi Kay appreciated Daniel’s humor. “It was refreshing for someone to make a wheelchair joke, especially a stranger,” she said. “Daniel was energetic and had a great sense of humor. We had an immediate connection.” The couple went on a date the night after they met and married a year later. “It is worth noting that Daniel’s mother was diagnosed with MS when he was five years old,” Bobbi Kay said. “She became paralyzed and has been a wheelchair user most of his life. I’m sure that experience influenced Daniel’s ability to see me and not the chair.”
The couple loves to travel, and they consider Oklahoma State University sports events one of their passions, especially football. Both support the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, and Bobbi Kay has served on the organization’s board of directors. “On a more personal level, we have a very close relationship with Braden Hurst, the 13-year-old son of a friend,” Bobbi Kay said. “He is a wonderful kid and is especially close to Daniel. He got to go to Toronto with us for a week this summer. We love our time with Braden!”
Bobbi Kay’s ability to seek joy in her life and to appreciate the many opportunities that she’s experienced has served her well, both professionally and personally. This positive attitude is intentional. She told us about a conversation she had with a therapist several years ago about a character in a movie who, after being shot in the head, changed from an angry, difficult man to a much nicer person. Bobbi Kay asked whether the therapist believed this transformation was possible. He told her that a significant injury or illness does not define who you are; it intensifies who you are. He believed that if you were a jerk before, you would probably be a bigger jerk after a severe injury. If you were a good person, you would be even better. “I determined that I was going to take that as a challenge, and I was not going to be a big jerk!”
Bobbi Kay may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Bobbi Kay Lewis is a consumer advocate who lives in Oklahoma.
This article was written by Rosa Walston Latimer