Kylee Appman: Playing the cards she’s dealt

Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Herald
Heritage Hills eighth-grader Kylee Appman swam laps during swim practice on March 9 at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City. Since she had her Medtronic's Interstim removed last July, Kylee has been completely healed and is now an advocate for children and families who are considering a similar surgery. Kylee said she is grateful that she's able to help families who are going through the same decision process she did. "I wish I had had that kind of help when I was going through it," she said. 


CHRISNEY — At 14 years old, Kylee Appman has her life all planned out.

The Heritage Hills Middle School eighth-grader plans to get a basketball scholarship to a good college where she’ll study to become a biomedical engineer. Her end goal: working at Riley Hospital for Children to give back to the organization that gave her a normal life.

Appman suffered incontinence when she was younger, resulting from muscles wrapped around her bladder and dead nerves on the right side of her bladder. When the liquid hit the bladder walls, Lisa Motteler, Appman’s mom, said it just shot right out. Appman had a lot of accidents, causing stress and embarrassment in school, Motteler said.

“A lot of stressful, crying times,” Appman added.

Despite the incontinence, Appman lived a normal life. She started playing basketball when she was 5 and now devotes 10 months a year to the sport. She played softball until fifth grade and had tried soccer and swimming, too. Appman and Motteler tried their best to manage the incontinence with Appman’s active lifestyle — she often wore compression shorts and feminine products under her uniforms — but it didn’t always work.

“It was pretty hard, and sometimes it didn’t work out real well,” Motteler said. “We had to control our fluid intake, so that caused leg cramping. We just had to be really careful.”

When Appman was 12, the mother-daughter duo made a decision that would change Appman’s life. Shelly King, Appman’s nurse practitioner at Riley, spoke about a device that could help Appman control her bladder — the Medtronic InterStim, a device that sits below the skin like a pacemaker and uses electrical shocks to stimulate the nerves around the bladder. The device was often used in older people with incontinence, but wasn’t common in children at the time. Appman and Motteler were hesitant to go through with the procedure. There were myriad pros and cons with the devices, and Motteler worried about making a decision that would affect Appman for the rest of her life.

With each visit to Riley, King became more insistent about the device. Another softball athlete had success with the device, and King, who’d become a family friend over the years, thought the device could help Appman’s quality of life. King even arranged for a representative from Medtronics to come speak to the mother and daughter. That appointment spanned three hours and included buckets of tears.

Kylee hopes to attend college for a biomedical engineering degree to help research and create products that help kids like her.

“(Appman) was like, ‘Mom, why are you so emotional?’” Motteler recalled. “I said, ‘Because this is your body, Kylee. This is not my body. This shouldn’t be my decision.’ She said., ‘But you’re my mom. You’re supposed to decide for me now.’”

As a single parent, Motteler wasn’t comfortable making a decision on the device on her own, so the two made the decision the way they do most things: together.

Appman no longer needs the device that started her down the path of advocacy for Riley and, hopefully, to a career in biomedical engineering. Over the two years Appman had the device, her brain created new neuropathways that allow her bladder to work normally. Appman is one of the first kids in Indiana to have the device and to have the device be a success.

During the two years Appman had the device, she had to take extra precautions with sports to make sure it wasn’t damaged. She and her mom developed what they call Nicki Minaj shorts to protect the device. They took a pair of softball compression shorts and had a friend sew small volleyball knee pads around the waistline to protect the device and the wires that encircled Appman’s back. When Appman put them on, then put her basketball uniform over them, it gave her a big booty “like Nicki Minaj.”

The shorts are the first invention in what Appman hopes will be a career full of devices to help children with medical issues live normal lives. The friends she’s made and lost over the years at Riley and the dedication of the doctors she’s met inspired her to pursue biomedical engineering. Motteler is ready to help her daughter make the dream a reality.

“We both believe in God and we believe that we were dealt the cards we were dealt for a reason,” Motteler said. “I believe that God has a plan for Kylee, and that plan is for her to be that advocate for children because they know she can handle anything that’s dealt to her. And I’m going to be here to support her 100 percent to help her reach her dream of helping children. That’s our plan. God gave us these cards, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to guide her.”

In the meantime, Appman plans to do all she can for Riley. She’s working on becoming a Medtronic InterStim ambassador at Riley to talk to other families debating the device.

“You have a kid who is super sensitive to the needs and desires of other children,” King said. “Especially kids with any kind of medical or social issue.”

Appman also reaches out to other children at Riley to help any way she can. One girl, Eli Johnson, is also from Spencer County. Johnson has Down syndrome. The two met at an after-school program at Lincoln Trail Elementary where Appman helped the younger girl. Over the four years since they’ve met, the two have become close friends and learned of their shared connection to Riley. Eli’s mother, Meg Johnson, is one of the staff coordinators for Heritage Hills High School’s Dance Marathon, a fundraiser for Riley.

“I didn’t know who (Kylee) was at first, but Eli had a connection,” Johnson said.

Over the four years, Meg has gotten to know Appman and Motteler. When Heritage Hills started hosting a Dance Marathon three years ago, Meg asked Appman to speak as one of the life stories. Appman and Motteler have spoken at each Dance Marathon since. Appman is dedicated to doing all she can to raise money for Riley.  She’s planning a fundraiser at Chrisney’s Fall Festival to raise money for Dance Marathon. The fundraiser will include a wiffle ball tournament and music performances featuring local musicians and an Elvis impersonator. The dates are yet to be determined. All the money raised, however, will go toward the Heritage Hills Dance Marathon’s fundraising goal of $36,000.

“People don’t think that a small town school can do that much, but we can,” Appman said. “Go big or go home, seriously.”

Appman is thankful she took a chance on the device and grateful to King and her doctor, Benjamin Whittam,  for helping her and Motteler along the journey. Her experiences at Riley and the people she met there made her who she is.

“It changed my life a lot,” Appman said. “I got to learn that I should be thankful for my life because there are so many people who have things — just horrible things. Bad things happen to good people, and I don’t think that’s fair. I want to help them.”

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