Can you imagine being trapped inside your own body? Able to see and hear everything going on
around you but unable to move or speak - the blink of an eye your only way of communicating.
Fell-runner and fun-loving mother-of-three Kate Allatt’s life was torn apart when what appeared to be a stress-related headache exploded into a massive brainstem stroke leading to locked-in syndrome. Totally paralysed, she became a prisoner inside her own body. Doctors warned her family she would never walk, talk or swallow
or lead a normal life again.
But they didn’t know Kate. The words no and never were not in her vocabulary.
With the help of her best friends and family she drew on every ounce of her runner’s stamina and
determination to make a recovery that amazed medical experts. Using a letter chart, Kate blinked the words “I will walk again”. Soon she was moving her thumb and communicating with the world via Facebook. Eight months after her stroke, Kate said goodbye to nurses, walked out of hospital and returned home
to learn how to run again.
This is the story of her incredible journey.
Sunday February 7 2010
I don’t know what a migraine feels like. I’ve managed to live for thirty-nine years without ever having one. But if it makes you wish you could just take off your head and hand it over to someone else to look after until it stops yelling, then I guess the doctor at A&E must be right, that’s what I’ve got.
Just four hours ago that same doctor sent me home with a packet of Co-codamol painkillers and told me to take it easy for a couple of days. I am trying my best to follow his advice which considering that I am mum to three active children isn’t easy.
I’ve spent the afternoon lying in bed wishing the drugs would kick in and ease this relentless throb at the back of my head. I close my eyes and clutch the back of my neck, gently allowing my fingers to massage the base of my skull, wishing this agony would subside just long enough to let me drift off into a pain-free sleep. Please, just one hour of rest and I’ll be OK.
Suddenly I hear ‘MUM!’ There’s a brotherly war breaking out in the bathroom between Harvey, nine, and Woody, six. Woody’s calling for backup. I try to block out their arguments knowing that my husband, Mark, who is down in the kitchen clearing up the remnants of Sunday lunch, will step in if it gets out of hand, as it usually does. But I can’t ignore the noise. This headache is making me irritable. I get up from the bed and make my way to the bathroom.
‘Harvey, if you don’t leave your brother alone, you won’t be going football training after school tomorrow,’ I snap, causing another wave of nausea to wash over me. Mark hears my distress and comes to my rescue.
‘You’re stressing, sit down, I’ll deal with them. Just calm down, and I’ll make you a cup of Earl Grey tea,’ he says, slightly irritated. Wrapping his arm around my shoulder, he guides me downstairs to the lounge, where I slump on the red leather sofa and cradle my head, which is throbbing so badly. This is the mother of all headaches. Our daughter India, eleven, has left the television on and gone upstairs to get her school bag ready for the morning. On the plasma screen there’s a repeat of last week’s Dancing on Ice where some soap star is twirling around like a pro. But I’m not really watching. I look at the clock on the TV screen. 6.09 p.m. I feel bad, really bad. Not just throbbing headache bad, but a sensation that I can’t really describe. My body feels weak, like all the life is draining out of me. I start to panic.
‘Mark, what’s happening to me? I feel weird,’ I shout to Mark who is just yards away in the kitchen. The words come out in a slur. ‘Mmmeugh,’ a stifled moan leaves my mouth and suddenly Mark is in front of me but his face is a blur. My entire body turns rigid and I panic as I slide off the sofa, landing on the floor in an inelegant heap. I feel Mark’s arms around me as he tries to lift my dead weight and arrange my stiff limbs in to some semblance of comfort on the rug. I can only make out vague shapes and movement in the room, but I sense my husband’s panic as he calls to our daughter, ‘India, go and call Burt next door.’
Seconds pass, but I have no concept of time, just blind terror. I am no longer in control of my own body and it scares the shit out of me. Mark is still close, I can just about make out the whiteness of his T-shirt contrasting with the darkness of his hair.
‘Please, help me. Don’t leave me,’ I beg inside my head.
I hear India’s voice in the distance telling Mark that our neighbour is out and asking what’s happening.
‘Go and get Lise, just get anyone,’ Mark responds, sending India to get help from our other neighbour, who also happens to be a nurse. The fear in his voice is rising as he holds me. Mark, my usually calm, sensible ‘everything is black or white’ kind of guy, is panicking. Right now, he can only see black.
‘Kate, can you hear me? What’s happening? Are you all right Kate?’ Lise is here. I’ve no idea how long it’s taken for her to arrive. I am hot, I want to reach out for something to fan myself with, but I can’t move. My eyes are fixed wide open in fright like a rabbit caught in headlights. Now I can’t even control my breathing, I struggle to gulp for air. I hear myself making desperate panting sounds. Lise sends India off to get a fan and shouts at Mark to call 999 quickly.
A paramedic is first to arrive. He listens to my heart and checks my blood pressure then gets on his radio to call for back-up, an ambulance for a ‘lady in distress’. I wait. Mark and Lise are following the paramedic’s advice and putting damp flannels on my forehead to keep me cool. But I still feel like I’m in the furnaces of hell. Maybe this is retribution for my lifestyle, running a home and business, ferrying the kids to their after-school clubs and activities and my own punishing fell-running regime . ‘Is she having a fit?’ Mark asks the paramedic.
‘This is no fit,’ is the stern response.
Minutes pass and we wait, all the time I feel weaker. The paramedic gets back on his radio. He’s not taking any excuses. ‘Send me any unit you can and send it now.’ Even he seems to be panicking.
This is serious: Mark knows this is serious and I know it’s serious. The paramedic tells Mark to go and get an overnight bag ready for me as I’m going to need it. I hear Mark’s footsteps on the stairs and he returns with my running kit, silly sod. I know I love being out running on the fells, but running kit is the last thing I need at this moment.
Two men in green arrive and lift me onto a stretcher. As I’m wheeled out of my home, I think, where are the kids? I hope they don’t see me like this. Then I wonder, am I wearing matching knickers and bra?
I feel a trickle running down the inside of my left thigh as I’m wheeled into the back of the ambulance. Oh great, now I’ve peed myself. How will I ever live with the embarrassment? Mark holds my hand as the sirens scream and I slip in and out of consciousness like someone is pressing the pause button on my life.
I was fascinated to read the story of Kate Allatt and her road to recovery. She is a huge inspiration
Just amazing and inspirational.
‘Kate’s life was torn apart ... her recovery has been amazing’
Kate Allatt is a 40-year-old mother of three and a keen fell runner. She lives in Sheffield with her husband Mark and three children India, 11, Harvey, 10 and Woody, 6.
Before her stroke she ran her own digital marketing company and was preparing an expedition to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
David Atkinson on
20th April 2012 4:07PM
This book describes Kate's amazing recovery from a sudden and massive stroke leaving her locked in. it's not a common injury and most people won't have heard of locked in syndrome. Kate's book changes all that and describes how self determination, the support of family and friends and the thoughts and prayers of untold others gave Kate the courage to fight back and regain her rightful place at home with her husband and family. An inspirational book which will help others for years to come.
20th April 2012 4:04PM
'Running Free' is excellently written and a perfectly well -balanced combo of 'Triumph Over Tragedy' and real medical facts.
Kate's personal story is told in a no-nonsense writing style which immediately hooks you in from the moment she recalls waking up in hospital with Locked In Syndrome unable to communicate and feeling as if she has been buried alive, following a massive stroke. The reader is taken on Kate's journey to recovery and, as every page is turned, there is an incredible sense of hope and optimism despite the unimaginable daily battles she endures- and later challenges herself to win despite the odds. Kate shows the same stoicism and perseverance as her fictional fighting hero, Stallone's 'Rocky'.
You just know Kate is going to make progress and prove the medical experts wrong because of her self belief, gritty determination and network of family, friends and supporters whose loyalty is unwavering. Kate tells it as it is with candid comments and real honesty and there are no saccharine-coated cliches......the story does not need them. You really couldn't make it up. It is quite surreal just reading about how Kate learnt to swallow, eat, talk and walk again and the comedic moments of humour which unexpectedly burst out of the pages here and there reveal the invincibility of the human spirit during the toughest of times.
The love and commitment of Kate's three children, husband, relatives, friends and carers envelop her like a circle of strength and nurture her every day. Touch, hugs and positive words or simply having a friend wipe away tears of frustration really do make a difference. When months later Kate has progressed to using a hospital computer to access Facebook and tell others of her plight you realise the business acumen and integral instinct of Kate Allatt's personality to all who knew the digital marketing expert in her pre-stroke days has not been impaired in any way. In some ways Kate\'s bloody-mindedness is her saving grace as her voice reaches out across the internet and seemingly screams "I am a stroke survivor, not a victim!"
Ghostwriter Alison Stokes must be applauded for picking up Kate's story via Facebook and throwing her a lifeline. The written words are far more powerful knowing that Kate was rendered speechless by the stroke. No doubt Kate's refound voice (and indeed the aims of her charity Fighting Strokes to provide information and support for patients, carers, health professionals and families) will resonate down the corridors of power- not to mention hospital wards- where other stroke sufferers and those who care for them learn invaluable lessons about strokes and Locked-In Syndrome. This book will be a valuable point of reference. Kate\'s inspirational story made me cry. Yet since finishing the book, I always aim for a 'my glass is half full, not empty' approach to everyday life.