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Katherine Marie Heigl was born in Washington, DC, on November 24, 1978, to Nancy and Paul Heigl. A short time afterward, the family moved to New Canaan, Connecticut, where Katherine was to spend the majority of her childhood; the youngest member of her family, Katherine--or "Katie" as she is nicknamed--has two elder siblings, John and Meg. Tragically, her older brother Jason died in 1986 of brain injuries suffered in a car accident, after being thrown from the back of a pickup truck. When doctors determined he was brain-dead, the family made the difficult decision to donate his organs. Not only did this painful chapter give Katherine a greater perspective and appreciation for life, but it motivated her to use her celebrity to promote the importance of organ donation.

Katherine was first thrust into the limelight as a child model. An aunt, visiting the family in New Canaan, took a number of photographs of Katherine, then aged nine, in a series of poses to advertise a hair care product she had invented. Upon returning to New York, with permission from Katherine's parents, she sent the photos to a number of modeling agencies. Within a few weeks Katherine had been signed to Wilhelmina, a renowned international modeling agency. Almost immediately she made her debut in a magazine advertisement and soon followed this with an inaugural television appearance in a national commercial for Cheerios breakfast cereal.

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