Shear determination

Bridget Veltri and Bridget Veltri

Chatting while getting your hair done is a personal preference but if you take the time to strain your ears over blow dryers you may find your stylist’s wisdom transcends the beauty world of hair and nails.

Inside the modest City College Cosmetology Academy building is a student named Tyler Kotowski. Based on her hazel eyes and perfect white teeth or the friendly way she escorts you to the shampoo station, one would never guess at one point in her life she was unable to walk, talk, or smile at all.

Kotowski was vaccinated at 18 months for pertussis, or whooping cough. Within five days of receiving the shot Kotowski had lost most of her motor skills. Two weeks later she could no longer hold up her head. “It is a statistical certainty that some children will react negatively to this vaccination,” said her mother Diana Kotowski. “The odds of having a negative reaction to the shot are greater than actually contracting the disease.”

Doctors told her parents to give up. Her chances at recovery were one in a million. Those odds were good enough for them. “We had nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving it our all and trying,” said her mother. “She was still with us, just trapped in a body that wasn’t working.”

Kotowski’s recovery was a difficult one. It took a lot of love and 18 weekly therapy sessions. “We just supported her. She did all the work,” her mother said.

For a two-year-old who couldn’t hold her head up, today she does that and more. She is a thriving 19-year-old student working nights towards her cosmetology license. The San Marcos High alumnus’ days are spent at the high school helping students in the Special Education Department. “What I’ve been through made me open my heart,” she explained. “I work there because I know how it feels being teased and stared at. I tell them that there is a lot in their future despite what the moment may feel like.” Kotowski occasionally brings in her students for manicures and pedicures.

High school students aren’t the only ones that Kotowski teaches. “As an instructor I find myself learning patience from her,” said cosmetology instructor Juana Hernandez. “I think the whole class empathizes with her and respects her courage.”

Kotowski admits she faces academic challenges. “Math I can’t deal with, I get so frustrated,” she said. “I have to try 10 times harder than others and at the end of the day they wonder why I’m tired.”

Classmate and friend Lavinia Cardenas has great admiration for Kotowski. “When she has a hard time with something she does it; that’s what I love about her,” Cardenas said.

Her interest in cosmetology began when she was young and used to enjoy cutting her Barbies’ hair. Today she practices scalp treatments, coloring and men’s haircuts on non-Barbie customers. However, the men that come in for a trim are not the only ones in Kotowski’s life. She’s been dating her high school sweetheart for four years; they’ve been living together for two.

Kotowski calls her mom her “hero,” but she seems to be her mom’s. “My hopes for who she would become have been exceeded. She is kind, generous, loving and has a heart of gold,” said Diana Kotowski. “I know she’s going to be successful because she knows how to love.”