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Down but not out: Musician fights her way home one breath at a time

Karen Witt suddenly lost the ability to breathe or move at all. She's fighting to get it back so she can come home.
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The Collingwood community is rallying to bring one of their own home.

Karen Witt, a local musician, composer and sign painter, has been confined to a hospital room in Toronto for six months after she suffered a type of aneurysm that left her paralyzed and unable to breath.

Witt is part of the band Hunnay! and together with her music partner of 20 years Laura Somers they have written and performed original songs across the region.

“It’s all original, we don’t lock ourselves in to one genre,” said Somers. “It’s folky, it’s bluesy, it’s poppy … whatever comes up is what we write.”

Witt played the mandolin, but stopped when she lost some mobility in her arm. She also makes painted signs, old-school with paint and a brush. No vinyl decals.

Witt suffers from a rare condition called arteriovenous malformation, which has several outcomes including loss of fine motor skills in limbs. Quadriplegia is not guaranteed, but it can happen as it has, suddenly, to Witt.

“Most people didn’t know there was anything wrong,” said Somers. “She hasn’t let any of it slow her down, that’s for sure … she is private and she’s not a complainer.”

Initially Witt required a tracheotomy line connected to a machine to force her breathing. Her doctors have since removed that line and closed the hole in her neck. She now has a diaphragmatic pacemaker. She has managed to reduce the amount of time she needs the pacemaker to 12 hours at nighttime. A rather unheard-of rate of recovery.

Somers is a long-time friend of Witt, and has been keeping the community updated on Witt’s progress.

“I think 30 years of singing has probably helped her strengthen her diaphragm,” said Somers. As for whether or not Witt will sing again, it’s wait and see.

“I like to say yes,” said Somers. “I’m a hopeful person, and I know she’s really strong.”

As Witt focuses all her strength on breathing in and out without machine assistance and going home, her friends and family are focusing their efforts on making sure home is ready for her.

Somers is coordinating the effort via social media with a Go Fund Me page and through Witt’s Facebook page.

Though there are still many unknowns when it comes to the care and assistive devices Witt will need, she will need them both if she’s to come home.

If Witt can re-learn to breathe on her own full-time, she can be reclassified by the health care system and can live at home with proper home care. Without breathing on her own, she will have to remain in hospital or a long-term care facility. The waiting list could take years, and in the meantime, Witt would remain in hospital.

The Go Fund Me page has a goal of $150,000. In addition to devices such as a specialized wheelchair specifically for her paralysis, she will need nursing and PSW care, a customized vehicle and upgrades to her home.

She and her husband live in a two-storey home in Collingwood, so it’s likely they will have to move to a single-storey bungalow and complete the accessibility upgrades once they find a home with one level.

In addition financial and in-kind donations online, the community can show its support by attending one of the benefit events being organized for the Bring Karen Home fund.

On Sunday, Nov. 4 at Crow. Bar and Variety in Collingwood there will be a tribute concert to celebrate Witt’s music and a silent auction. The event runs noon to 6 p.m. Silent auction items are still needed.

On Oct. 26, there will be a comedy show and Halloween dance at Duntroon Hall, the time is to be announced.

There will also be a musicians auction, which will allow people to bid on musicians for a living room or backyard concert.

“[Witt] has always been kind of a ‘get on with it’ type of person,” said Somers. “Even though she had slowly been losing a little mobility before she never sat around and moaned about it. She’s a tough cookie.”

Somers said the community has been very supportive since learning of Witt’s situation, and people have come “out of the woodwork” to share a story about Witt’s generosity or kindness.

“She’s an inspiring person,” said Somers. “She’s been inspiring me since I met her.”

For the latest details on events or the fundraising effort to bring Witt home, click here.

If you’d like to contact Somers for a donation or to help with an event you can email her here.




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