tampabay.com

String of bad luck just wouldn't stop coming

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published April 19, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - Ever since her fall re-election campaign, School Board member Cathi Martin has been notable in her absence from half the board's meetings.

If you didn't know better, you might wonder whether she had given up on her duties.

Far from it. As Martin explained through sobs and nervous laughter Tuesday, during her first board meeting since February, she's just been dealing with a string of bad luck.

"My children and my husband say I have a black cloud over my head," Martin said. "My nickname at home is Eeyore."

It all started in September, when Martin, 51, underwent arthroscopic surgery for knee injuries compounded from her years when she was "thin and a cheerleader."

"I was the lower part of the cheerleading stance, so they would always stand on me, so I got a bad back, bad shoulders and bad knees," she said.

Well, shortly after that surgery, "the worst thing in my whole entire life happened."

One of Martin's sons, Curtis, woke up one December morning complaining of lower back pains. A first round of doctor visits didn't turn up the culprit. So the family went home. The pain just got worse.

"So we took him back to the hospital. They admitted him," Martin said. "His white blood cells were up. They ran every test that they could. I come in to visit him one evening and I see an oncologist and a hematologist right there at the foot of his bed. This is the worst thing any parent could see probably in their whole entire lifetime."

No one ever figured out what ailed her son. Best guess was a bacterial infection. But he did get better.

Martin's knees didn't. So she scheduled replacement surgery for the end of January.

"I figured it was a good time because it was winter break," she explained. "I'd be out, I'd be on my way back to School Board meetings, workshops, executive sessions, things like that."

If only it were that easy. First, the surgery had complications. She needed four pints of blood. After recuperating enough to go home, her luck did not improve.

"I had been home for two days. I got a phone call from my sister, who lives in Jacksonville. My 22-year-old niece had committed suicide. She had OD'd. I am not making this up," Martin said.

Her family recommended against going to Jacksonville. But she drove up to help plan the funeral.

"Got through that, with God's grace. Got home. My 10-year-old female boxer (dog) died. All this happened to me while being on crutches, on a walker and a cane and not able to walk," she said.

Not gloomy enough? There's more.

Leaving the surgeon's office after a followup, she dislocated her knee and fell. A few weeks of physical therapy later, Martin felt good enough to come to the March 20 board meeting.

But, on the way: "I wrecked my car. I hit my knee on the dashboard and split it open. Ended up in the hospital that evening. I hit a preschool school bus," she said, choking up as she recounted how she tried to find out if children were on board.

"It was just the driver. She got out. I could not get out of my car. My door was bent. The state trooper had to kick it out to get me out of the door. I got out. My knee was covered in blood. My husband came, took me back to the hospital. Which put me back even more."

That was, she said, "just about it." Martin thanked her board colleagues, the superintendent and staff, and constituents for all their support, and for keeping her informed about school district activities throughout her many ordeals.

Telling her eight-minute tale, no notes, tears and all, didn't come easily, Martin acknowledged. But she felt like she just had to do it.

"I debated if I should bring this to you. But I think yes they should know some things," Martin told the audience. "But my therapist says it is a way of grieving and a way of healing."

Fast Facts:

She's had troubles

Since September, board member Cathi Martin has missed seven of 15 board meetings. She's got a good explanation. Here's a quick rundown of the reasons:

- Knee surgery

- Son's life-threatening illness

- Another knee surgery

- Niece's suicide

- Pet dog died

- Dislocated knee

- Car accident (with knee injury)