AN Edinburgh Napier University student who suffered life-altering injuries and severe head trauma after being crushed by a 60ft tree during a music festival was worried her “mind would never fully recover”, but six years on the determined young woman has defied the odds and has just graduated with highest honours.
Kasey Johnson was only 21 when a storm brought down a Black Locust tree on top of her, leaving her with a fractured spine, broken leg, shattered ankle, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and severe head trauma.
While the traumatic accident permanently disabled the Napier student she has not let it hold her back and used the “terrible life event” to earn top marks for her dissertation on “the experience of disabled people at music festivals” while studying for a masters degree in International Events and Festival Management.
In 2013 Kasey, originally from Peoria in the US state of Illinois, was walking to the main stage at a music festival in her hometown when a storm broke out and caused a rotten tree to crush her.
Lucky to survive the incident, the young woman was forced a foot down into the muddy surface, cushioning the impact and ultimately saving her life.
Kasey said: “My accident happened while I was attending a festival in Illinois in 2013, called the Summer Camp Music Festival.
“It had bands and electronic music and was only 15 minutes from where I grew up.
“While I was walking on the main path to the main stage, for the last act of the weekend, a fully rotted, 60-foot tree fell on me.
“Although I was surrounded by other people, it only crushed me.
“A large group of men lifted the tree off of me and pulled me out from under it.
“I was rushed to hospital where I was in critical condition for a week, hospitalised for a month, and on bed rest for three months.
“I completely blacked out for two weeks and couldn’t remember my friends and family. They began to worry that my mind would never come back.”
A long and complicated programme of operations followed the accident and saw metal rods and screws inserted in her leg and spine, but three years later she was still in so much pain that she chose to have her leg amputated.
While recovering, Kasey, who walks with a prosthetic leg, continued to attend music festivals and developed a passion for improving the experience of disabled fans at gigs.
Now working in events organisation, she said that she has a unique insight into disabled festival-goers’ experience as a person with a permanent physical disability.
She said: “Caring about and understanding the event experience of those with disabilities is extremely important, and being a person with a disability but also an event industry professional, I have a unique viewpoint. There are many structural issues that are hard to work around or fix, but even paying attention to them is the first step to improvement.”
Kasey developed this passion whilst studying for her Master’s degree at Edinburgh Napier University where she wrote her dissertation and has been awarded the Class Medal for her efforts.
Dr Joan McLatchie, a senior lecturer in Edinburgh Napier’s Business School, said: “Kasey showed huge resilience in accepting and overcoming the many obstacles she had to face while studying for her Master’s degree.
“She remained positive and upbeat throughout and managed to maintain a high standard of achievement on her course.
“Her attitude was an inspiration both to staff and to her fellow students. I am delighted that she has achieved a distinction level award, and she thoroughly deserves the class medal.”
Kasey’s journey to academic success has, similar to her recovery, been far from smooth. Before finishing her research project she had to cope with the death of her 49-year-old mother during her studies, to whom she has dedicated her dissertation.
Medical complications also meant that she had to complete her studies long distance.
She said: “I lived in Edinburgh and attended full-time from January through April; I planned on living in Edinburgh for the duration of my programme. Unfortunately, during that time, my leg began to get worse and I needed another surgery to fix my extreme nerve pain.
“By the end of the summer, I realised I could not return to live in Edinburgh full-time. I needed to be closer to my doctors and was still having complications. It was a very difficult time but with help from my instructors, I was able to still attend full-time, but from the States.”
Kasey said coming to Scotland to study was “definitely worth it” as there is “nothing like it” in America.
She said: “One of my colleagues told me about the International Event and Festival Management program at Edinburgh Napier University and I fell in love. I felt like it was made for me.”
Speaking about the 2013 incident while celebrating her incredible achievement, the new graduate said: “I thought I was grateful before my accident, but I had no idea what grateful meant.
“For months, I couldn’t feed, dress or bathe myself. I saw my body go through changes and felt things no one should ever have to experience.
“But it made me a stronger, nicer and more focused person. I realised everything I took for granted before and vowed to never be like that again.
“My accident was a wake-up call, a very harsh one at that, and has had an immeasurable effect on who I am today.”