Kathryn: I just want a normal life again

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A BEACON SPECIAL INTERVIEW

Kathryn Clarke was a happy-go-lucky wife and mother of two young daughters, with the world at her feet. Then suddenly, and without warning, her life was turned upside down as tragedy struck.

She was driving husband Nic’s van, and was just 10 minutes from home, when she swerved to avoid a bird. The van careered off the road, crashed through a telegraph pole and smashed into a tree. Kathryn was rushed to hospital with ‘non-life sustainable’ brain and neck injuries, and put in an induced coma, with a metal plate in her neck to hold her skull onto her spine.

Nic was told his wife would be left quadriplegic, locked in syndrome, and never be able to breathe again unaided. Kathryn’s situation was so critical, he was even told to start planning her funeral.

But Kathryn soon began to show she is made of stronger stuff than most. After four months in a Coventry hospital she was transferred to a Leamington Spa rehabilitation hospital, spending a further 11 months there.

Now, more than five years after the accident, which happened in Northamptonshire on February 26th, 2011, the 38-year-old continues to defy the odds. She has made massive strides towards recovery, and she and her family are determined not to give up.

In the 15 months after the accident Nic clocked up 97,000 miles travelling from their home to visit her in hospital, and five months after the crash the first breakthrough came when she whispered ‘hello’ to him. Then there was the merest squeeze of a hand in response to Nic’s touch. Since then her speech and movement has improved with every day that has passed, achieving many of the day-to-day tasks that most take for granted.

Inevitably, her battle has come at a cost to her and her dedicated family, but despite living in a mobile home, where condensation runs down the windows,  mould grows on the frames, and even the bed pillows are damp, Kathryn, Nic, and daughters Zoe, 12, and Becky, 10, do not feel sorry for themselves.

They are just looking for the help and support that could elevate Kathryn’s recovery to the next level. They live on minimal benefits, and Nic revealed he has been openly criticised for not working.

A former furniture restorer, he says emphatically: “I am not Kathryn’s carer, I am her husband. I am 42, and would love to be out working, but at the moment that is just not possible. Am I ever expected to work again?

“I get an allowance for caring for Kathryn, but I’ve worked it out and it amounts to just 2p an hour. What would happen to her if I decided one day that I didn’t want to do it any more?”

Kathryn admits: “I am so frustrated because no one seems to be able to tell me where to go, or what to do next. My family have stuck behind me from day one, and I am eager, and dream to get better. People have told me I can’t, but why can’t I do it?

“I am trying everything, but I am beginning to think I am too complex for the UK. We are even researching the possibility of going abroad so maybe a neurological student doing a Masters can work with me, and use me, to try to give me that chance. My physiotherapist costs me £84 an hour and is very good, but I need specialist people. She told me I need somewhere like the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court, in Surrey. I spoke to someone there, but they don’t want to know because I am not ex-Army.”

As Kathryn continued to speak, it became blatantly obvious that this was a desperate cry for help. She does not want people to pity her, just give her the opportunity to live a normal life again. But as the days pass she is beginning to feel she is not worthy of the huge amount of money it would take for a team of specialists to offer that chance.

She and her family moved to the Isle of Wight four years ago, having never been here before. They opted to live here, sensing the warmer climate would help the recovery process, and it has proved to be the case.

By learning to talk, and even walk a few strides again, Kathryn has underlined her strength and determination, but she and her family cannot do it alone. She doesn’t want a carer, but pro-active people to give her back the full life she deserves.

Yet it is not just herself that she and Nic are thinking about, and never have done. Within three days of the accident, Nic set up the Kathryn Clarke Foundation. He did not even know if Kathryn would survive, but wanted to set something up to raise funds for other people who had suffered similar tragedies.

“I had family and friends around but I felt so alone, and I didn’t want others to feel like I did, and to go through what we were going through as a family,” he said. “The support we have had from individuals on the Island has been absolutely amazing, but it is beyond that where we need more help. She goes to rehab and be asked to do something, and she can do it almost instantly. So we know it is still there, and she can do more.”

Kathryn’s ultimate aim is not just to make a full recovery, but for her and Nick to open a rehab centre in even warmer conditions, to help similar sufferers.

“If people can’t help us, then we want to help ourselves by helping others,” said Nic. “We have found a plot of land in Italy, where we could build a house, and self-contained pods. We could do it for £150,000 – it would be tight but we could do it. That would take us off benefits, allow us to move forward, enable me to work again, and help people who have gone through the same experiences we have. A big thing for us would be to gain charitable status, and if anyone can help then please get in touch through the website kathrynclarkefoundation.com or Facebook kathrynclarkefoundation.”

Although the odds may still be stacked against them, Kathryn, Nic, Zoe and Becky are not the types to give up easily, as they have proved time and again since that fateful day back in February, 2011.

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