HOUSTON — A crawfish boil on a recent hot Houston Saturday featured music, friends, and the honoree, Katy Hayes.
After losing both arms and legs to a strep A infection after giving birth two years ago, the Kingwood mother of three has struggled to adjust to life without limbs.
Cumbersome prosthetics haven't really helped her function much better, and keeping her own spirits up has been another challenge.
"Before I was kind of dependent, laying there, not seeing really the kind of light at the end of the tunnel," Hayes said. "And now I've got that light, and I'm just charging ahead. Because it's within my reach. It's going to happen."
Limits are why Hayes is daring something attempted by few amputees on the planet — a double arm transplant, perhaps as early as this summer.
Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston has agreed to perform the complicated, experimental surgery.
A double arm transplant has Hayes dreaming of simple pleasures.
"Brushing my teeth; washing my face; wiping my own butt," Hayes said with a smile. "You know — things that everyone takes for granted."
Her husband, Al, is also dreaming of the smaller things.
"I think about things like feeling her arms around me, or feeling her touch my hair," he said. "I'm looking forward to her rediscovering the joy in simple touch."
Al Hayes is taking leave from his job as a middle school band teacher so the family can temporarily move to Boston as they wait for a donor.
It's a long and expensive process.
The Hayes are holding a number of fundraisers, including the crawfish boil, to generate the estimated $60,000 to $200,000 needed for living expenses, rehabilitation and other medical care.
The Hayes family is particularly grateful for an unexpected gift that may make the attachment of donor arms easier.
As the flesh-eating infection worked its way up his wife's limbs, Al insisted doctors leave behind enough bone for a possible arm transplant.
Parkland Memorial Hospital Dr. Gary Perdue, who spearheaded Katy Hayes' surgical team, left significant muscles and tendons, giving her extra strength and movement for an amputee.
Brigham and Women's doctors have told the Hayes that the muscles and tendons left behind are a pleasant and unusual surprise for an amputee.
Al Hayes said he particularly looks forward to bringing his rehabbed wife face-to-face (and arm-to-arm) with naysayers.
"So we can go back to every doctor who said she was going to die, and every doctor that said we have to cut her off at the shoulders, because there's no way they're going to be able to do arm transplants, and we're just going to let her flip them off," Al said with a laugh. "And I bet you that most of them will be grateful that she can show up and do it."
Hayes said she fears developing another life-altering infection, but she doesn't dwell on dying.
She does think often — and seriously — about her donor.
"It's just weird to think she's alive right now," Hayes said. "She's going to have to have an accident, be brain dead. And then the family's going to decide to pull the plug. Then my doctors will swoop in and say, 'How about giving her a second life? How would you feel about giving her arms to this lady?'"
Hayes said she never imagined being a trailblazer who could open doors for future amputees. All she wants is to be able to hold her youngest daughter, who is now two years old.