More than 30 years after she was pushed onto a subway track, severing her right hand and ending her budding classical music career, Renee Katz has penned a book of poems that seeks to recapture the innocence lost when "the wildflowers and daisy wishes" were mowed down by evil.
Katz's poems in her first book and debut album tell her story of rediscovery after the horrific 1979 life-changing tragedy that outraged and saddened New York City.
Katz, then a 17-year-old girl from Flushing, Queens, was set to enter a prestigious music conservatory when she was thrown into the national spotlight, which documented her eight surgeries -- including one to reattach her right hand -- daily rehabilitation, and hundreds of letters from well-wishers. All happened as she tried to rearrange her college plans, never leaving time to grieve her musical loss, she said.
Today, sitting in her living room in Queens, with her piano and new husband, Barry Packer, 52, Katz, also 52, said: "I don't want to be known as the woman who lost her hand in a subway crime. I want to be known for my talent, my singing voice, intelligent voice -- a voice for people who had something terrible happen to them."
In her book, "Never Been Gone," whose front cover has a painted picture of train tracks surrounded by daisies, Katz gives thanks to "my fellow New Yorkers whose generosity, creativity and compassion all made my rehabilitation successful."
In her own words, she revisits that tragic day in the southbound E train station at 50th and Eighth Avenue, when she felt "a very strong, deliberate shove from behind" that sent her down onto the tracks feeling "a thud as I hit the tracks and the speeding train passed over me."
Katz lost her thumb and would never become the classical flutist and pianist she dreamed of being. Instead, she started from scratch, learning to write with her left hand and developing her voice as a new instrument.
"I feel that I have been blessed to redirect my focus that had me develop other passions," said Katz, who learned to push forward during her rehabilitation. "There I was, surrounded by amputees, people with spinal cord injuries in wheelchairs -- all with a super-positive attitude."
Katz, the mother of a 16-year-old son, graduated from New York University and became an occupational therapist. She uses her singing and personal story to inspire her patients.
"He's still out there," she said of her assailant, who was never arrested. Her fear, however, would not stop her from living. "If I did, that guy who pushed me would have succeeded. I'm still alive, feeling. I have gratitude," Katz said.
Just recently, a letter arrived from the New England Conservatory, where she was to study music in 1979, reminding her of the open invitation to attend. With a smile and glint in her blue eyes, she shrugged at the possibility.