Foundation of courage and love

By Richard Wright

Friday, March 14, 2014


Foundation of courage and love

The Clarke family above, from left, Zoe, ten, Rebecca eight, Kathryn and Nic Clarke. Picture by Jennifer Burton.

WIGHT LIVING THE DOCTORS said Kathryn Clarke would never be able to walk, talk, eat or even breathe for herself after she was nearly decapitated in a crash that should have claimed her life.

That was three years ago at the start of what was to be 15 months in hospital.

Today, ten operations and countless rehabilitation and therapy sessions later she has proved the experts wrong.

Not just a medical miracle, but an example of what true grit and the love of her husband and family can do, as a team, to overcome staggering odds.

Those odds were stacked so much against her that not a single member of the casualty team at the hospital she was taken to thought she would survive her grievous injuries.

"Betting on outcomes was the Coventry A&E staff’s way of coping with the day-to-day things they have to see and do," said Kathryn’s husband, Nic.

"The neonatal intensive care unit benefits from the proceeds of the betting and it was only some weeks after her admission that a member of the team confided that no-one, not a single person, backed Kathryn’s survival."

She had been flown from the crash scene by air ambulance, with the emergency crews and the doctor in charge all certain she would not survive for long.

Kathryn’s life was was to change forever after she swerved to avoid a bird flying across a quiet Northamptonshire road.

Her van felled a telegraph pole, which smashed into the roof. Then she hit a beech tree, which really did the damage.

She had been critically injured on a road where her plight may have gone unnoticed for long enough for her to die behind the wheel. Fortunately though, a pair of birdwatchers saw her, dialling 999 within seconds.

Nic had been expecting her home and was increasingly anxious by the time he received the numbing news from police. They took him to the Coventry hospital to say goodbye to his wife.

Cosmetically, she appeared hardly injured at all. He could not see the damage within.

The occipital condyle — the bone which allows the head to move relative to the spine — was fractured and her brain was bleeding.

There was little sign she was at the start of a marathon road to recovery. Nic was constantly at her bedside for four days, their two girls were taken to the hospital three times to say farewell to their mother, each time medical staff warning the worst was imminent.

The first signs of Kathryn waking after weeks of coma were when her self-confessed romantic husband visited, put headphones on his wife and played her some music.

You’re Beautiful by James Blunt caused the first movement of her face — she screwed up her mouth. She relaxed when he put on something she liked.

It was her first reaction to the outside world, the first glimmer of hope.

The crises to follow were many. Pneumonia took her body to the brink and the titanium plate inserted to hold her neck to the base of the skull was not especially to aid her recovery — because it was still not believed she would make one — it was to make nursing her much easier.

Nic is still in touch with the flying doctor and a member of the "amazing" critical care unit team that aided his wife’s recovery to the point where she could leave the Royal Leamington Spa Rehabilitation Hospital, where she had spent 11 months after transfer from Coventry.

Nic had clocked-up 97,000 miles driving to and from the two hospitals in that 15 months.

Upon discharge, the look of the couple’s outside world was a very different one to when she was admitted.

Their furniture restoration and upholstery business was no more and their four-bedroomed house in a quiet Northamptonshire village would have to be sold.

What to do?

With limited means they could afford only budget accommodation.

So, they upped stumps with their daughters, Zoe, who is now ten, and eight-year-old Rebecca after buying the former Vectis Shipping cargo boat Newclose, now a houseboat.

Since September 2012, Newclose on its Wootton Creek mooring has been home.

There, Nic and the girls have been the rocks for Kathryn, now 35, to hold on to.

"I hate the description of carer. I am a full-time husband, doing just what I signed-up to — being with Kathryn, for better of worse."

He and Kathryn are immensely grateful to the women and men of the NHS who have helped her to get to where she is today. It was estimated her first month cost the NHS £1 million.

She has now trained her brain to make new connections. Speech therapy has enabled her to communicate and the fingers of her left hand can tap a keyboard to the extent that she is 35,000 words into her first book, part of self therapy.

She can walk, with support, she can eat what she likes and even enjoy the occasional gin and tonic

But, Kathryn has just received the news that her twice weekly occupational therapy sessions are being axed, her physiotherapy cut in half and her NHS hydrotherapy sessions are fast running out.

She faces having to pay from their own meagre funds if the hydrotherapy, which has made a huge difference, is to carry on.

Kathryn and Nic are not the sorts who want everything done for them.

They want to help themselves — and others too.

Nic had to learn to jump through all sort of hoops, with little assistance, to get the benefits they need to survive and the pair have decided to establish the Kathryn Clarke Foundation to aid that.

"I’m hoping to raise funds through sponsorship and we are staging a fund-raising and awareness event on March 27 at the Lakeside Park Hotel and Spa, at Wootton," said Kathryn.

"We have had a brilliant response from Island businesses for a silent auction and there’ll be the Emmy J Mac Jazz Band entertaining.

"I’m meant to be quadriplegic but I’m doing everything in my power to walk again. That’s a long-term goal because I currently need a wheelchair, but I’ve scaled a big hurdle, the six-inch threshold of the shower.

"I want to be able to use my right hand too.

"I want the foundation to go on to help and support others who are going through similar situations.

"People need all the help they can get at the most difficult time of their life when they can be so frustrated by simply not getting assistance."

Nic added: "If we can help just one other person find their way through the system then it will be worthwhile."

To some, what the couple have been through would be a nightmare, but the nightmare for Nic would be not to have his wife by his side.

"Sometimes I think that I am going to wake up and discover this is all a dream — that Kathryn really isn’t here any more."

Facebook: kathrynclarkefoundation

Tickets to her fundraiser: 07707151219.

Tickets cost £20 or £15 for 12 and under and numbers are limited to 150.

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