Delivery alert

There may be an issue with the delivery of your newspaper. This alert will expire at NaN. Click here for more info.

Recover password

Battling debilitating illness with a smile

Katie Royer was born into a family of strong women.

Though the men are no slouches – father Paul Royer is a retired nuclear engineer, and uncle Dick Knipfing is Dick Knipfing – it’s the women she credits most with inspiring her, guiding her, holding her up and reminding her that she is not just a person with a broken body, but a strong woman with a soaring mind and a giving heart.

Marion Knipfing, her maternal grandmother, was her biggest influence, she says. Strong, determined and classy, she taught Royer that education was the one thing no one and nothing could take away.

Marion encouraged Royer not only to learn well but to teach many, to be relentless no matter how hard it is – to put on her lipstick, put on a smile and show up.

Where her grandmother taught her the importance of the mind and the moxie, the lessons of the heart fell to Royer’s mother, Beth Royer. It is Beth who showed her the selflessness of caring for those most in need – including Katie’s big brother.

Chris Royer was 19 when he was shot in the skull at close range in January 1995, a day before he was expected to testify in a narcotics case. The shooting left him blind, brain-damaged, partly paralyzed and in need of his mother’s constant care ever since.

“She’s amazing,” Katie effused. “Super giving, very giving, just generous in spirit.”

Marion Knipfing, left, was a strong influence, granddaughter Katie Royer says. Knipfing, she says, taught her the importance of an education and showing up. This photo was taken when Katie was about 13. Knipfing passed away in 2006. (Courtesy of Katie Royer)

Marion Knipfing, left, was a strong influence, granddaughter Katie Royer says. Knipfing, she says, taught her the importance of an education and showing up. This photo was taken when Katie was about 13. Knipfing passed away in 2006. (Courtesy of Katie Royer)

The lessons Katie Royer has learned from her mother and grandmother have held her in good stead. At age 33, she holds two master’s degrees, graduating at the top of her class both times from the University of New Mexico. She completed her bachelor’s degree in just 3½ years from Regis University in Denver, graduating magna cum laude and in Alpha Sigma Nu, an exclusive honor society.

In 2012, she became clinical director of a treatment foster care center in Albuquerque, helping some of the city’s most abused and neglected children. Until recently, she was a counselor for displaced youths, addicts and families.

Although her mind and her heart are strong, her body is not. Just before her 13th birthday, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an incurable autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract along with unpredictable, often gruesome episodes of abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea.

And that’s the good part. Royer’s version, known more dramatically as raging Crohn’s disease, is worse – gastroenterologists have told her that hers is the worst case they have seen.

The disease has eviscerated much of her innards, preyed upon her vital organs, her eyes, her joints, led to a hemorrhagic stroke that forced her to learn basic skills again and left her extremities numb. It has required her to undergo chemotherapy and take harsh experimental medications with horrific side effects. It has visited her with bouts of fever, rectal bleeding, ulcers upon ulcers, inflamed appendages, relentless vomiting. It has nearly killed her, and it continues to baffle her doctors.

But it has not stopped her from putting on her lipstick, putting on a smile and showing up.

“Pain is all she has ever known,” said Julianna Hamlin, Royer’s best friend since high school. “People have never understood what she has gone through, mostly because she keeps telling the world that this disease will not control her. And as much as she is able, it doesn’t. It hasn’t.”

Royer is a disarmingly charming woman. She laughs easily, speaks warmly, as if whomever she is talking to were a lifelong friend.

She is thin, too thin, hovering around 100 pounds. She requires an ileostomy bag after the entire length of her colon and portions of her small intestine were removed in 2010.

Days after that surgery, her brain began to bleed, bringing on the stroke.

The worst of it, she said, is the fatigue, the need to take naps at least twice a day when things are bad. But it’s also the pain, she said, like a knot in her gut, twisting and tearing inside when things are bad.

Things are very bad.

Katie Royer was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 1994 and has battled incredible health problems since then. But that has not prevented her from earning two master’s degrees and working with disadvantaged children. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Katie Royer was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 1994 and has battled incredible health problems since then. But that has not prevented her from earning two master’s degrees and working with disadvantaged children. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Despite the removal of her damaged intestines, the disease has continued to march on. In March, she became so sick that she was forced to leave her home, take leave from work and move back in with her parents.

“I feel like a big 33-year-old baby,” she jokes, though her fears are not easy to hide.

“It’s a little bit scary, because they’ve tried every drug, every treatment,” she said. “There is nothing much more to try.”

As we talk, she admits she is in pain. But she would rather talk about those glorious times when her pain was manageable, when her Crohn’s wasn’t flaring, when she struck out into the world to learn well, teach many and selflessly care for those most in need.

“I remember thinking, what can I do to make a big difference?” she said. “I figured I needed to work with kids and families who need help.”

Though she is too weak now to do that work, she continues to teach by educating others about Crohn’s disease.

“It’s not always like they show in the commercials,” she said. “This is a hard disease, a big disease.”

But her friends say she is teaching so much more than disease pathology.

“What I’ve learned the most from Katie is how it is still possible to give so much back to the world, even when it gives you so much pain,” Hamlin said. “What I’ve learned from her – from all her family – is how to stay strong.”

The lessons continue.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a story about how coronavirus has affected you, your family or your business? Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? What issues related to the topic would you like to see covered? Or do you have a bright spot you want to share in these troubling times?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com or Contact the writer.
AlertMe
TOP |