When Kate, 39, woke up in hospital she thought she was dreaming but she quickly realised that she had entered into her own worst nightmare- she was locked in her own body with no way out…
Fitness fanatic and mum-of -three Kate Allatt was only 39 years old when her life was torn apart in Feb 2010.
Waking up in the Intensive Care Unit of Sheffield Northern General Hospital she found herself hooked up to a life support machine and paralised from the neck down.
She had entered her worst nightmare.
Kate had ‘Locked – in – syndrome’- a cruel condition and rare side-effect of having a stroke.
She could hear and understand the world around her but could not move a single muscle. She was literally locked inside her own body- with only her thoughts for comfort.
Medical professionals stressed that Kate was ‘lucky to have survived’ and warned her husband Mark, that she would never live a normal life again.
Only the day before her near-fatal stroke Kate had gone on her usual 12 mile run and played happily with her three children, India, 11, Harvey, 10 and Woody, 6. But the next day life as she knew it changed forever.
“I woke up with a really sore head and a tingly sensation in my mouth. I’d had a slight headache for three weeks previously, but had put it down to stress from juggling my Digital Marketing business with family life. But that day it felt a hundred times worse and I knew I needed to get help,”
But after visiting the hospital she was sent home with Co-Codamol and told she was suffering from a stress-induced migraine.
But two hours later Kate was battling for her life.
“Back home I tried to settle down on the sofa but my speech was slurred. My next memory is waking up hooked to a life support machine. Panic raced through me as I felt completely awake and alert.”
Kate had suffered a major stroke.
Mark had found her slumped on the ground and frantically dialled 999. She was rushed for a CAT scan but surgeons were unable to determine whether Kate was brain damaged for life.
For the next two weeks Mark stayed by Kate’s hospital bed and prayed she would survive.
“I kept begging for a miracle. Doctors told me that her brain was not working properly. She looked like she was fast asleep,” Mark says, choking back tears.
A couple of days later Mark saw tears trickle down Kate’s face. It was the miracle he’d been wishing for, but it was bittersweet.
“When I saw her crying it felt so cruel. She could make no sound- she couldn’t smile and her eyes looked terrified and wild.”
For two weeks Kate had tests to determine if she was mentally agile. Incredibly, Kate managed to communicate by blinking. She’d blink once for ‘no’ and twice for ‘yes’.
“I felt so angry being stuck in my useless body. I heard the awful diagnosis and it filled me with fury. I knew I had to tackle this anger positively. By blinking it felt like the ray of light I needed to begin to escape from this silent, solitary hell,” Kate recalls.
Kate’s progress astounded everyone and a week later she was spelling out words using a letterboard.
“Writing ‘Hello’ felt like such a milestone. It filled me with a fiery determination to carry on with the battle.
“But I was still terrified that I’d never be able to hug or talk to my children again, or that I couldn’t provide for my husband. Mark told me not to entertain the ‘what if’s?’ and carry on fighting,” she remembers.
Two months later Kate was out of Intensive Care and moved into a Neuro-rehablilitation unit. She was taken off her ventilation machine and had a tracehetomy inserted.
Her progress moved at a startling rate.
“When I moved to the rehabilitation unit I felt like I was starting to win the battle. I was still completely paralysed, but I would stare at my limp body and will it to move. For hours at a time I’d just concentrate on my right thumb, willing a miracle to happen,” Kate remembers
After days of concentration, Kate finally managed to make her thumb twitch through will power alone.
“Watching my thumb I suddenly realised just how powerful the mind is. Once I could move it I could start pressing a buzzer to get assistance when needed. I felt like a caged bird being set free.”
Every week Kate would set herself new challenges and push herself to achieve them.
Kate’s youngest child Woody encouraged her to start writing by giving her a pen and paper and asking her to write his name.
“Children are so innocent when they ask you to do things and Woody had seen me point at my communication chart. He started so sweetly into my eyes and handed me a pen. When I managed to scrawl ‘Woody,’ my emotions washed over me and I couldn’t stop crying,” she gushes.
The nurses at the unit realised Kate was not like their usual cases who normally stabilise at a certain level. Every goal they set for her she would achieve within half the expected time.
“I wanted to challenge myself to speak but I didn’t have enough air capacity in my lungs. Doctors said I’d never be able to. My wish was finally granted when they removed my trachectomy. I had to stick tissue paper into my mouth to stop me salivating and practise blowing a ping pong ball through a straw. With every breath I blew I grew stronger,” she says.
Her belief that she could repair herself was encouraged once again by little Woody when he asked her to say his name in July.
“When he heard me start making muffled noises he wanted me to try and say his name. I looked at him and managed to mumble Woody, then my other childrens’ names.”
Energised by her new ways to communicate Kate threw herself into physiotherapy and promised that she would walk again.
At first even staying upright in a wheelchair was remarkable at the neuro-rehabiliation unit, but every day she was hoisted upright and slowly started to walk, with the help of a frame.
“I felt like Bambi trying to walk again. But every stumble made me all the more determined. My first shopping trip with India was incredible, I felt like I could be her mum again. I was in my wheelchair but I felt like the tallest person in the world.”
For three months Kate improved rapidly and in September she was finally allowed home for good.
“It’s true what they say- ‘what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger’”.