White Heart Lends Helping Hand to Courageous, Determined Navy Corpsman

As an Independent Duty Hospital Corpsman, U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Holly Katke operated as one of the highest enlisted medical care providers in the Navy. On August 15, 2010, during a mission with a group of Navy SEALS in Iraq, HMC Katke was shot in the head by an enemy sniper. The bullet entered her brain but did not exit, and was one eighth of an inch from being a fatal blow. As a result of the injury, HMC Katke lost much of the use of her right arm, hand, and leg. Her speech and mental function also slowed, and she was left legally blind.

HMC Katke (right) and her daughter Leah, now age 13.

HMC Katke (right) and her daughter Leah, now age 13.

After surviving mostly through sheer will, she awoke from a month-long coma. Not only did HMC Katke not know that she had been shot but she also learned (for the second time) she was a mother. Her daughter Leah was four years old at the time but she had no recollection of her.

From the very beginning, HMC Katke’s recovery was long and arduous. Slowly but steadily, though, she made inspiring progress, and mother and daughter began to reconnect. Over the years, leaps turned to bounds, and two years ago, while continuing to defy the odds, HMC Katke earned her bachelor’s degree in health sciences from Trident University in Long Beach, California. She went on to complete an internship in Florida, studying coral reefs and water quality. And she plans to continue researching these subjects, along with environmental health issues, while in graduate school. 

HMC Katke began her rehabilitation at a veterans hospital in Tampa, Florida, where she met and befriended the mother of U.S. Army Ranger SFC Cory Remsburg (now retired), Annie Remsburg. SFC Remsburg was on his tenth deployment overseas (yes, tenth) when he was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Oct. 1, 2009. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, leaving him blind in his right eye and partially paralyzed on his left side.

Annie Remsburg and HMC Katke became very close. And eventually Annie convinced her to move closer to her and Cory. Annie rallied as many veterans charities as she could find in the hopes of building a home for HMC Katke and Leah. And it worked.

The Carrington Charitable Foundation provided HMC Katke with a renovated home that eased the trials of day-to-day living. Located in Gilbert, Arizona, the one-story house has new flat exterior walkways for smoother access, plus new interior hardwood floors and tile. The updated kitchen is also compliant with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

HMC Katke (center) smiles at the ribbon cutting for her new therapy pool.

HMC Katke (center) smiles at the ribbon cutting for her new therapy pool.

To do their part, and support HMC Katke’s ongoing recovery, the White Heart Foundation contributed all the money raised by their 11th Annual Ride to the Flags event, which goes from Naval Base Ventura County-Point Mugu to Pepperdine University’s Waves of Flags memorial, and took place Saturday, September 8, 2018. 

“We raised over $52,000 before we even began this event, and hopefully we’ll pull in several more after a few raffles and frosty brews,” Ryan Sawtelle, founder of both the White Heart foundation and the Ride to the Flags event, said in an interview with The Malibu Times.

The funds raised by White Heart went to building a therapy pool behind HMC Katke’s new home in Gilbert. The build began in April 2019 and was completed with a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 23rd. The Mayor of Gilbert was present for the ceremony to show his support, along with many local businesses. SFC Cory Remsburg, who is another of White Heart’s Warriors, was also in attendance with his family.

According to an article in the Gilbert Sun News, Katke said there are times when she feels like a different person. But when asked if she has any regrets about enlisting, she replied, “Absolutely not. I would do it again without a doubt.”

You can hear more of HMC Katke’s story right here. And if you would like to continue supporting her transportation needs and rehabilitation, please go to WhiteHeart.org and donate to her campaign.  

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Before and after shots of the new therapy pool. 

Alec McPike

Alec McPike is a U.S. Coast Guard Veteran, grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and is currently a freelance writer and blogger living in Los Angeles.

Alec McPike