Despite the terrifying possibilities, Kali Coppess chooses positivity and working for something better


“I’ve had to completely change my life for just me falling off of my bike,” freshman Kali Coppess recalled. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be a normal kid again who can do normal things.”

As Kali reflected on a simple summer bike ride that turned into a life-changing accident, she remembered one feeling that still resonates today: shock.

It started on a rainy day in June, and Kali was pulling out of her driveway on her bike to meet up with a friend. With one umbrella resting on the handlebars and another in her hand, Kali was prepared for a rainy ride to her friend’s house.

As she descended the driveway, the umbrella that was sitting on the handlebars fell into the spokes of the bike, and Kali plummeted to the ground. After the initial shock of the incident wore off, Kali was able to pinpoint what exactly was in the most pain. It wasn’t a broken arm or a twisted ankle; it was a damaged thumb.

“At first, I didn’t feel anything at all when it happened,” Kali said. “I just felt [shocked]. I was just looking at [my thumb], and then all of a sudden, it just started hurting so bad. I stood up and noticed that my thumb was just gushing blood.”

With a dismantled bike and a damaged thumb, Kali pushed the pain aside and examined the extent of the injury. As she was attempting to put her fragile thumb that was hanging by a thread back into place, it detached from her hand. Kali immediately ran inside to get help as she was rapidly losing both blood and strength.

She and her family quickly rushed to Urgent Care on Cascade Road where they, unfortunately, were unable to operate. They immediately drove to the hospital, Kali begging each red light to switch to green, where they had better luck.

“The security [guard] rushed us [inside] and put me in a wheelchair,” Kali said, “and I cut the line and didn’t have to do anything normal where they measure you or whatever. They immediately started operating on my thumb.”

The surgeons reattached her thumb as fast as they could in order to combat the blood loss, just until they were able to fully repair the tendons and nerves at a later time. Three days later, a transfusion surgery took place– an operation that usually takes an hour– that ended up taking four due to unexpected complications.

“I don’t really remember anything from that day except getting really, really sick from all of the medicine,” Kali said, “because my body wasn’t ready for that much.”

In order to protect her thumb, Kali emerged from the surgery with a cast up to her elbow. After the medicine wore off and Kali regained her strength, she was thrown another curveball in the recovery process. She developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which is characterized by chronic pain after an injury. For Kali specifically, the nerves in her hand and arm acted up and caused a multitude of shocking symptoms.

“Complex Regional Pain Syndrome is when your nerves go crazy and a lot of crazy things happen,” Kali explained. “Your skin gets shiny and thin, and it turns purple or really veiny sometimes. It’s whatever my mood [is], almost. It gets really stiff before it rains, and it makes little creaky noises. It’s not really fun.”

As Kali progressed through her recovery, she learned how to combat some of the symptoms and continued to downgrade in casts. The elbow-length cast she initially wore eventually downsized to a more versatile hand cast. Because the nerves in her hand are still damaged, Kali is unable to bend her thumb. So, she wears a hand cast that has a leather strap attached to it that bends her thumb for her.

Even with the helpful hand casts that assist in some daily tasks, Kali still experiences an immeasurable amount of persistent pain. Recently, yet another unyielding curveball delayed the recovery process and added to the pain Kali endures every single day.

Part of the bone in her thumb is exposed, so Kali will have to undergo surgeries to heal that.

“I’m going to have at least a couple of more surgeries,” Kali said. “One is to cut off that bone, [and] another one is to fix my nerves, because in the left side of my thumb I can’t feel anything, really. It’s constant pain; it feels like shooting pain, all of the time. [It’s] like when your foot falls asleep; that buzz.”

Because Kali is right-handed and the accident happened to her right thumb, Kali has been learning how to use her left hand for daily tasks. She started by picking up various objects with her left hand and simply getting accustomed to living left-handed.

Once daily tasks became easier, Kali started to practice writing the alphabet with her left hand. While her practice has made progress, Kali still finds it difficult to adjust to a left-handed life.

“[The accident has] completely changed my life,” Kali said. “I’m learning how to become left-handed [and] it was difficult at first, and it still is. I’m not as good with my left as I was with my right, but I just kind of started picking things up and just practicing. Every day, I write letters of the alphabet just over and over and over. I just have a notebook for it, and it’s just filled with pages and pages of the alphabet.”

Because Kali is not perfect with her left hand yet, she is applying for a 504 plan through the hospital and the school. Because her thumb can still swell up and writing can still be difficult, the plan will allow Kali to receive grace and understanding from teachers if she isn’t able to fully finish a written assignment.

As for lacrosse, Kali doesn’t need a plan.

Years ago, when Kali started lacrosse, she learned how to play ambidextrously. All lacrosse players learn this way, but Kali’s right hand was stronger than her left. After the accident, Kali was able to strengthen both her left side and her positive mindset.

“Working only in the left almost is a good thing,” Kali said, “because it’s forced me to become a lot better with my left hand; that’s only what I can use.”

Kali is unsure whether or not her thumb will ever fully heal, but she is hopeful that it will. If it does, Kali knows that she will be a stronger lacrosse player.

While it is still up in the air whether or not Kali’s thumb will heal, her future procedures will hopefully answer the ambiguous question. Towards the end of the month, Kali is scheduled for a nerve-block procedure where the doctors will inject a medication into her neck that will travel down into her arm. Because her arm will be numb for up to ten hours, the hope is that the procedure will “wake up” the nerves in her arm, and ultimately her thumb, once the numbing medicine wears off.

“It’s basically when you turn your phone all the way off to make it stop working so it can start working again,” Kali explained. “Basically, that’s what [the doctors] are hoping [will happen] with my thumb.”

Kali is optimistic that the procedure will heal her nerves and ease the pain. In case it doesn’t, though, she is also scheduled for a four-hour consultation with an array of specialists that will give her the big picture of an unhealed thumb.

“I’m pretty hopeful that it will heal, but we don’t know, and we’ll just have to see with my surgeries,” Kali said. “It’s scary because I just don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s really painful.”

While the future of her thumb remains an unknown, Kali’s response and mindset to the situation always remain constant. The shock still comes in waves, but Kali pushes past the pain and attempts to look at the bright side each day. 

“I feel like if it never did heal, I would get used to it, and it would be fine,” Kali said. “It kind of is scary, but I try not to think about it too much. I don’t want to be negative about it; I try to be as positive as possible.”