By Alex Robinson
More than 30 years after overcoming a horrifying attack in which she was pushed in front of an oncoming subway train and lost her hand, Renee Katz is still finding ways to inspire.
The Flushing musician has announced the release of her book, “Never Been Gone,” which seeks to embolden other survivors. The book contains poetry she wrote throughout the years, from the days following the subway incident up until present day.
“As unfortunate as it was, there were lessons that could be learned moving forward,” she said. “I made up my mind I was going to feel and experience my life and go into the fear rather than avoiding it.”
On June 7, 1979, the flautist’s life changed forever when she was pushed off a subway platform in Midtown Manhattan by an unidentified man. The 17-year-old fell onto the tracks in front of a train, which severed her hand. Surgeons at Bellevue Hospital were able to miraculously reattach the hand after 16 hours of surgery, but she has never regained full function.
The story played out on front pages across the city and around the country.
Her new book chronicled that day and the months that followed as she coped with her injury and figured out how to rebuild her future.
Although the promising student, who attended the High School of Music and Art, could no longer play the flute, she made sure music was still part of her life.
“I tried to redefine my life using the things I was passionate about,” she said. “I tried focusing on my voice. I’m very blessed I can sing. Music is part of my soul and nothing is going to stop that from happening.”
She became a cabaret singer and released a CD, with the same name as her new book, which shares many of the same messages and themes as her poems. Katz, who now works as an occupational therapist, said she is currently working on a second album she plans to release next year.
In the weeks that followed her attack, Katz said letters sent from well-wishing New Yorkers helped her through her ordeal. She also took inspiration from her father, Isidore, a Holocaust survivor.
“If my father could get through all that horrible stuff, I could get through this,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let myself become numb and bitter. I would be playing into the hands of the guy who pushed me off that subway platform if I did that.”
Katz’s attacker was never found. A suspect was put on trial in 1980, but acquitted of all charges.
She said the attack made her much more aware of her environment.
“I still have a little post-traumatic stress that gets the better of me, but I work through it,” she said.
Katz rarely rides the subway anymore since she has learned to drive, but when she has to, she never goes on her own.
“An accident really causes you to grow up much quicker,” she said. “The gratitude I feel from things is more intense because I know life can be taken away so quickly.”
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.