Running Free: Breaking out from Locked-In Syndrome

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When thirty-nine year old Kate Allatt wakes up in hospital after spending three days in a coma following a massive brainstem stroke, she realises that she is unable to move anything except her eyelids. However, despite her paralysed body, she is completely aware and understands everything that is going on around her. Running Free conveys Kate’s physical and psychological journey, against the odds, from a state where she is completely dependent on others, to her return to a ‘normal’ life with her husband and three children.

A keen and relentless fell runner before her stroke, Kate often clocked up to 70 miles a week along the Sheffield moors or Peak District mountains and her latest personal challenge was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. However, just as she starts training in preparation for the climb, the super-fit young mum is struck down by a massive stroke caused by a blood clot to her brainstem. As she fights for recovery, Kate’s ambition is to run again; hence the book’s title Running Free. She later likens her journey walking out of the hospital to the treacherous and exhausting Kilimanjaro ascent.

This remarkable and inspirational story is a brutally honest and highly insightful account of locked-in syndrome from the inside. It combines emotion and humour as the reader shares in Kate’s experiences, from the highs to the lows of her ‘long road to recovery’.

Kate’s book is originally intended as a lasting legacy to her children but later becomes a platform, along with her Fighting Strokes Facebook page and website, to empower and give hope to stroke survivors and their families. The key aims of her book are to raise awareness of strokes and locked-in syndrome, inform carers and health professionals working with survivors and to provide support to patients, their family and friends.

Running Free explores the issue of voluntary and involuntary euthanasia, as it takes several weeks for Kate’s family and friends to learn that in her lifeless body she is actually aware and can communicate by blinking. It also highlights the importance of patients and their families retaining hope, despite the often pessimistic attitudes of doctors.

Kate is a firm believer of ‘mind over matter’ and maintains that her progress has mostly been due to this concept. Her own prognosis was bleak, with only a 50/50 chance of survival and doctors saying she would never walk or talk again. Yet, through sheer determination and her self-confessed ‘bloody-mindedness’, she willed her brain to develop new pathways (to replace the old ones destroyed by the stroke) to enable messages to be sent to her muscles and to restore movement to her body.

Inspired by the Rocky films she loved to watch as a child, Kate imagined she was Rocky Balboa – the underdog fighter turned victorious boxing champion – humming the theme tune in her head, which spurred her ‘on to victory.’

To quote Amazon reviewer and stroke survivor, Geoff Anderson: ‘‘ It is a story about how the human spirit can overcome in the most difficult of circumstances and how no matter who says what is impossible, if you choose not to believe them and set and work towards your goals, there is always light at the end of the darkest tunnel.’’

Following the success of Running Free, Kate has written and published her equally highly acclaimed second book Gonna Fly Now! Locked-in Laughter Unleashed: Funny Tales from a Stroke Survivor.

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