Living a Healthy Life with a Disability

By Katie Jo Houtman

My name is Katie Jo Houtman, and I was born with Prader-Willi syndrome. This condition affects the area of the brain responsible for appetite control. It also causes poor muscle tone, a very high percentage of body fat and lack of energy. Because of Prader-Willi syndrome, my whole life is based around food. This disability is very challenging because it easy for me to gain weight but very hard to lose weight. I think about food all the time, more than anyone else I know.

Little Yellow House

For many years, I lived on my own in a yellow house in Orono, near Lake Minnetonka. My house was close to my parents so if I needed any help, they were able to come over and provide support. I tried to lose weight and handle my disability on my own. As the years went on, I seemed to gain weight every day. No matter how hard I tried to lose weight or change my ways, it did not work. I was gaining too much weight and my health was getting worse, little by little, until I was in a very bad spot. I could only handle my disability for so long on my own. I really did not like where my weight and overall health were at. My parents and I agreed that if I could not turn my health around, I would move in to a group home.

I had a hard time taking in that I might have to move out of my own house. I didn’t like thinking about it. I didn’t want to move out of my house because it felt so much like my home; it’s where I felt the most comfortable. I liked living on my own and having my freedom. So, at the end of 2012, I had to think very hard to figure out what would be best for me in the long-term. This would be a big change in my life from being on my own to living with others. It was a difficult decision to move into a group home, and I really did not like having to make this choice. I didn’t want to do it, but I had to do something to get healthier. I realized that my disability was just too hard for me to handle on my own. I needed to get more help for my own health and to save my life. In February of 2013, I chose to move in to a Hammer apartment program to get better support to manage the symptoms of Prader-Willi syndrome.

Katie Jo Gaming

To me, healthy living means: exercising, eating healthy, drinking lots of water, having good personal hygiene, taking care of my skin, having a good heart, having a good mind and brain, taking care of my bodily organs, going to doctors’ appointments, taking my medicine, making sure my apartment is clean, being a good advocate for my needs, having a dog, having a cat, being an aunt to my niece Charlie (she is my inspiration), teaching Sunday School at my church, going to plays, going to movies, going to sporting events, having fun, smiling, laughing, learning how to be less stressed, being safe, being smart, having friends, socializing, getting out in the community, being/staying active, being responsible, working hard on the goals I have set for myself, being organized, feeling loved, being flexible to change, enjoying the big and small things in life, getting enough sleep on a nightly basis, being/staying positive, having a good sense of humor, keeping myself motivated, making good choices (physically, mentally and spiritually), and staying busy.

Since moving to my Hammer apartment, I have been able to lose a large amount of weight. With the support I receive, I now feel I can live a healthy lifestyle and do many things I wasn’t able to do before. I would like to say thank you to Hammer for helping me build and live a healthier life!

Katie Jo and Dad

Katie Jo and her dad at this year’s Annual Meeting … Katie Jo was the guest speaker and did an amazing job!


  1. Angela Bernhardt

    Your story, spirit and honesty are so inspiring Katie Jo. Thank you for sharing with us.

  2. Ann Martinka

    Katie Jo, your words are meant for everyone, with and without disabilities. You have a lot of wisdom – thank you for sharing.

  3. Suzanne

    Thank you, Katie Jo, for speaking at Hammer’s Annual meeting and now sharing on this blog. YOU are an inspiration! Your story is honest and heartwarming.

  4. Owen Davison-Edwards

    Katie, what a blessing it is to see these pictures and read your blog. As many others have already stated, either here, or in person, I just want to say thanks for being the awesome person you are! Oh, and yes, I almost forgot – such an awesome cook! I haven’t forgotten the taste of the dish you made at Vicksburg awhile back. ):

  5. Nancy

    Katie Jo, you are an inspiration to all! Your positive attitude in all you do makes you the lovely young woman you are! Keep up the good work, my dear! See you in church!

  6. Lisbeth

    Katie Jo,once again I am inspired by your story. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Tom Russeth

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story.


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