Kylie Schalz

As well as keeping you up-to-date with insurance industry news, timely information on technical and market topics, opinion pieces and insights, we would like to use Tsquared as a platform to celebrate the amazing people who work at Thornton Tomasetti.

A story which we find particularly inspirational is that of one of our Senior Mechanical Engineers…

Kylie’s story

“Growing up, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine). I was told that I would eventually need to have surgery to correct the curve. At that time, I was entering college on a full athletic scholarship. My surgeon and I both agreed that it would be best to wait until my athletic career was complete to perform the surgery. However, midway through my junior (third) year of college, I started experiencing severe pain in my back and it became increasingly difficult to breathe. It was found that the curve in my spine had gotten significantly worse and had started to compress my lung. My surgeon told me that surgery was now required immediately and considered an emergency.

I decided to have the surgery as soon as possible. On June 8 2011, I went in for the surgery which, although considered an emergency, was relatively routine. However, there were extensive complications requiring the surgeon to abort the surgery and remove anything he had placed on my spine already. I woke up paralysed from the chest down. The first words I remember hearing from my surgeon were that I would never move, feel or walk again.

I never believed these words, but instead pushed hard in physical therapy with my primary goal being to walk again. I spent several months at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) doing inpatient rehab learning how to move, crawl and walk again. In late August, I was able to walk out of the hospital with the help of forearm crutches. I returned to school to complete my degree that fall without taking any time off. There, I continued to push to get better every day until I was eventually walking with a cane and sometimes without the use of anything at all.


About a year later in 2013, I suffered a major set-back. I was experiencing rapid loss in feeling and strength yet again. In a matter of 6 days, I had lost any feeling I had regained post paralysis and was quickly losing my mobility. After 3 weeks I was back in a wheelchair. We scoured the country for the best neurosurgeons and finally found one in Miami who had figured out the cause and was willing to operate. I had a spinal cord syrinx, virtually a balloon in my spinal cord filling up with spinal cord fluid and restricting the nerve flow through the cord. It was an extremely risky surgery, especially given the complications that arose in my previous surgery. However, he was able to operate successfully and within 2 months of rigorous physical therapy I had once again regained the feeling and motor I had lost.


I have since had two additional back surgeries. One was to successfully correct the curve in my spine as the first surgery was intended to do, and the other was to fix instrumentation that had cracked as a result of a fall. I continue to go through physical therapy weekly and push myself in the gym every single day. There is still residual paraplegia as a result of the initial surgery. I have roughly 50% feeling and 50% mobility. Every step I take is a miracle and a reminder of everything I have overcome.

I was told I would be in a wheelchair the rest of my life, but my wheelchair now collects dust. I was told I would never walk again, but I currently walk with a cane. I was told I should choose a different degree and career path, but I graduated and now work for one of the most prestigious engineering firms in the world – whose support has been phenomenal along the way.

I never believed what they said about my paralysis and instead wrote my own story. I am stronger inside and out because I believed in me when the medical professionals said I could not. Every day is another opportunity to disable my limits, turn ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can’, and believe that impossible is nothing.”


Working at Thornton Tomasetti

“I started working at Thornton Tomasetti in 2013 as a Mechanical Intern for the Property Loss Consulting practice. Since then, I have continued to progress and I am now a Senior Mechanical Engineer working in the Property Loss Consulting practice in the New York office.

A majority of the work I have done while at Thornton Tomasetti relates to the CAT-90 Sandy claims in and around the New York Metropolitan area. The claims ranged from multi-million dollar losses to small losses. In addition to the CAT-90 Sandy claims in New York, I also traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand in response to the catastrophic earthquakes that devastated the city. While much of the claims were structural or complete losses, several of the buildings suffered significant MEP damage.”

Kylie ThorntonTomasetti

Building Design + Construction annual 40 Under 40

Kylie has been nominated for the Building Design + Construction annual 40 Under 40 list by Bruce Arita and John Boyer. We wish her luck and she has our full support and belief that she deserves a place in the list


In addition to writing up her story for T2, Kylie has documented her journey on her YouTube channel, which she named after the (American) date of her life-changing surgery, 6-8-2011.

Thornton Tomasetti staff

Last year, Kylie organised for employees from our Chicago and New York offices to raise funds for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago by climbing to the top of the city’s tallest building, Willis Tower.

In addition to Kylie’s history with the RIC, Thornton Tomasetti has its own history with them, serving as structural engineer for its new headquarters scheduled to open next year. The Thornton Tomasetti team raised a total of $16,283. The firm did a direct match of all donations made by employees, totalling $6,060. All proceeds went directly to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Although getting to the top was no small feat, many on the Thornton Tomasetti team found the event to be very inspiring. “As we made our way up the tower, we were climbing alongside people with a wide range of abilities, all taking on the same challenge,” Jason Andrew said. “The whole experience was very motivational and empowering for everyone.”


Find out more about this experience in Thornton Tomasetti’s Facebook post and visit the ‘People’ section of our Thornton Tomasetti website to find out more about our people.