Life Lessons from Katie Sandler

Katie Sandler
Katie Sandler
  • I was born without a physical ear, and no ear canal, on my left side. Over the years, I had surgeries meant to replicate the ear structure. They took cartilage out of my rib cage and sculpted it; then they wrapped it in a nice bow with skin grafts. It took eight surgeries—the first one when I was an infant; the last one at age 8.


  • Until the later stages, my ear was like this nub. But my mom always pulled my hair back, so it was noticeable. My parents never raised me to be ashamed of it. It toughened me up. I’d communicate with people about it. If a kid was staring or making fun of me, I’d ask them if they’d like to know what happened.


  • It set a tone for my life, a testament not only to my parents but the people they surrounded me with. You can either be a victim to [your experiences], or they become part of your story. I’d much rather the adversity be part of my story, because there’s so much to learn from it.


  • When I was 17, I was sitting in my high school history class [Note: Sandler is originally from Virginia Beach]. I started to get a charley horse in the side of my leg. It wasn’t a normal one; it started progressing. Soon, I was in excruciating pain. … I ended up paralyzed from the waist down for the better part of six months. Eventually, I was diagnosed with transverse myelitis [a condition caused by inflammation of the spinal cord].


  • Johns Hopkins was the only place studying it. They started me on massive doses of intravenous steroids, and that saved my life. Most people, if they regain any functioning, it’s very limited. To this day, it’s shocking that I was that bad off then—and, today, I’m walking in heels.


  • I felt like I couldn’t catch a break with my health. [Note: Sandler also was diagnosed at 20 with the connective tissue disorder Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.] I remember thinking it’s too much, isn’t it? Who goes through all of this?


  • I began challenging myself to find a way to make my life better. What’s going to keep me afloat consistently? I realized that if I could [extract] meaning out of the things I’d been through, that it would be worth it. Maybe, this was my purpose. It was my a-ha moment. I could [use my experiences] to help others get through their challenges.


  • I finished my master’s at Nova Southeastern and later started a private practice, specializing in trauma training. I was doing well, but something was off. I started to notice that I was in a business model, not a therapeutic model. An hour a week is wonderful for some people; for others, it’s intensive in-patient programs. So, what’s in between?


  • With the Impact Retreat, every client gets the opportunity to share their story, in a one-on-one setting—and get it all out there over the course of three to five days. It’s a very intense, immersive wellness experience. It pulls the drapes back. And then we plant seeds.


  • Let’s say I have a client who is feeling that they’re not meeting their potential. Where does this belief come from? Is there a road block that you meant to jump 20 years ago and still haven’t? From there, we strategize and set concrete, attainable goals that help shift behavior.


  • Anxiety can be the most crippling part of living out our dreams or passions. If you can jump over the hurdle without fear, it sets you up for success.


Photos by Eduardo Schneider

Sandler earned her Master of Science degree from Nova Southeastern in mental health counseling.

She also was a psychiatric and neuropsychiatric research assistant at Johns Hopkins.

She also proficient in health coaching services, and mindfulness and meditation techniques.

For information on the Impact Retreat, visit katiesandler.com.

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