As a member of the Northeast girls’ hockey team at the annual Bay State Summer Games competition, Katie Jeter blends right in with her teammates.
A rising senior defenseman at Winthrop High, Jeter glides down the ice with ease, executing perfect crossovers and stopping on a dime.
Unbelievably, she does this without a single toe on either foot.
Victim to a life-threatening illness when she was 13, Jeter had to have all 10 toes and portions of both feet amputated, but eventually found the will to walk, and get back on the ice.
In the latter part of February 2009, Jeter, then a seventh-grader at the Southfield School in Brookline, was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital with a fever, sore throat, and a strange rash covering several of her joints, such as her wrists and ankles.
“People were coming in and taking pictures of it and no one understood what it was,” she recalled.
Three days after she was admitted to the hospital, Jeter went into septic shock. Doctors promptly put her into a medically induced coma, placing her on a life support system.
According to her mother, Karen, the doctors gave Jeter a 15 percent chance of survival.
“She wasn’t doing too well on [the machine] and they thought she was going to die,” said Karen Jeter. “So they ended up switching some settings . . . and she actually responded to it.”
According to the doctors, the muscle mass and physical strength Jeter had developed from being an active athlete were the main factors in her survival.
She was taken off of the life-support machine after eight days, but was suffering from gangrene.
According to her mother, doctors were considering amputating her left arm and both legs below the knee, but they ended up only removing her toes and portions of her feet.
Her new feet intrigued Jeter at first, but reality quickly set in.
“It was cool when I first saw them and I thought it was unique,” she said. “But then it kind of hit me that I have to live with this for the rest of my life.”
Now though, she is proud of her uniqueness and is not ashamed to show off her feet.
Following her six-week stint at Children’s Hospital, Jeter was transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown.
“They have to teach you everything: how to eat again, how to walk again, how to go to the bathroom,” said Karen Jeter. “It’s amazing what happens when your body’s not functioning for even a month.”
Her daughter regained coordination, strength, and the ability to bear weight, but there were doubts if she would be able to play hockey again.
“I was seeing how hard it was for me to even stand up straight,” Katie Jeter said. “To think about skating as well as I used to . . . it seemed like it was out of the question for awhile.”
But by August 2009, once Jeter was able to walk on her own, her mother took her to a local rink to test out her skating ability.
Just like that, Jeter was back to her old self on the ice. It was painful — it still is — but the pain was not enough to hold her back.
“It was easier to start up skating than it was when I started walking again,” she said. “I didn’t have to relearn how to skate, because you don’t use your toes as much when you skate.”
However, since she was missing such large portions of her feet, her ability to stride was hindered.
Bauer Hockey provides Jeter with custom-designed skates that allow her to stride more easily.
For her first two years of high school, Jeter attended Lawrence Academy in Groton, where she played hockey, before transferring last fall to Winthrop High.
In the winter, she suited up for the elite Boston Shamrocks club team.
This fall, the 18-year-old Jeter will play for the Middlesex Islanders Hockey Club for coach Digit Murphy. She will skate this winter for Winthrop High for the first time, under the direction of coach Anthony Martucci, who is also at the helm of the Northeast squad in the Bay State Games.
Martucci, who first saw Jeter play at age 9, has watch her incredible progress on the ice, despite the setback in 2009.
“She’s gone from a one-dimensional, bruising type of defenseman, to more of a polished, well-rounded player,” Martucci said. “She’s a really strong skater, has great hands, is tough and strong on the puck, and sees the ice really well.”
With his squad hoping to repeat as champion at the Bay State Games (Northeast opens play Thursday afternoon against Southeast-Coastal), Martucci added that Jeter “brings another element to our team. She’s gonna be probably one of the better players in the entire state so we’re excited to have her.”
Although Jeter may be one of the best defenders in the state, she says hockey will come as a second priority after her education. She intends to focus on medicine in college, as she was inspired to do so following her illness.
On Monday, she started an internship at Children’s Hospital in the critical care unit where she was once treated. There, she hopes that through her story of survival, she can inspire sick children.
“Thats one of my goals while working there: not only to gain knowledge about it, but also to be a morale booster,” Jeter said.
“Just to show people that there can be a happy ending.”