Getting independent with Kitty and Lucy Alexander

It was a seemingly normal day when TV presenter, Lucy Alexander dropped of her then seven-year-old daughter Kitty at school. Under an hour later, Kitty would be left paralysed.

Aged seven, Kitty was like any other young girl her age: full of life with a passion for sport.

Then one seemingly normal day, Kitty was taken to hospital after a virus began attacking her spinal cord, leading to permanent damage.

CHANGE

“It was all such a huge shock to start with,” remembers Lucy Alexander, who was working on the popular BBC show, Homes Under the Hammer at the time.

“But, we quickly realised it could have been so much worse.”

Spending time on a life support machine in intensive care at Evelina St Thomas Hospital, Kitty was diagnosed with transverse myelitis.

The condition leads to inflammation of both sides of one section of the spinal cord, for Kitty she experienced the inflammation on her T10 vertebra causing paralysis from the waist down.

“As a mum I remember it would take my breath away seeing my sporty daughter wheeling towards me in a wheelchair. I was heartbroken for what I thought she’d lost,” continues Lucy.

For Kitty, being only seven, she explains illness so early on. “I just got on with it. I think had I been older, it would have been so much harder. I learnt to adapt to my surroundings and challenges.

“It was hard but I had positivity around me, and I always tried to make the best of a bad situation and feel I’ve come out stronger as a person. I worked so hard with all my physios to practice wheelchair skills and transfers,” adds Kitty.

“I wanted to live an independent life. And I am now doing that, to a degree.”

POSITIVE

Nearly ten years later, Kitty has been determined not to let anything hold her back; instead adapting and flourishing.

One way the family has worked together to overcome the challenges they faced was to continue life as normal.

At the time of Kitty being admitted to hospital, Lucy was still filming for the BBC. After Lucy’s husband, former English professional football player Stewart Castledine, encouraged Lucy to return to work, the positivity and day-to-day routine of life soon fell back into place.

“I needed normality, and also after being hospitalised, it was important for Kitty to see me happy with positive energy for her to feed off of,” enthuses Lucy.

“My husband was utterly incredible. As any parent does: you don’t leave your child’s side when they are seriously ill.

“We had an amazing support network of family and friends – we still do.”

Continuing guidance from loved ones – although Kitty was placed on a new path – a sense of normalcy was paramount to her development.

ACTIVE

Prior to the infection, Kitty was incredibly active – especially coming from such a sporty family.

This passion for sport has not dwindled with acquiring a disability, in fact, it has seen Kitty make insurmountable achievements.

From playing wheelchair tennis, swimming 20 lengths each week, to performing as a lead character during the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games, with Rihanna and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, no less.

Sport has been an integral part in Kitty’s life and has accelerated her drive for independence.

GAINED

Of Kitty’s journey, Lucy emphasises: “ I have realised over the years how much Kitty’s gained, she’s utterly incredible and has showed us all how life is still just as good.

“I see people double take Kitty, they can’t believe her story and are in awe when they see and listen to her. It makes me so proud as a mother.”

Currently, Kitty is preparing to complete her A level examinations, and is filled with dreams of going to university or drama school.

Not slowing down, Kitty has also received a prestigious acting scholarship with hopes of working in the media in the near future: Kitty’s dedicated to living her best, independent, life and won’t let anything hold her back.

“I now focus on other things,” she explains. “It’s been very hard as you can’t be, well, spontaneous. All my mates can just get up and go. I have to plan more which sometimes takes the fun out of being a teenager.

“However, I have brilliant friends, and it doesn’t affect me as much as it used to. Plus, I can drive now which is easier.”

INDEPENDENT

Living life with a disability can come with challenges, and Kitty has seen the difficulties of life in London with a disability.

From broken lifts and only stairs, a lack of disabled toilets, it can take longer to do simple daily tasks as a wheelchair user.

“However, Kitty maintains her fierce independence even during difficult times.

“We don’t always need help,” emphasises Kitty. “It’s important to me that people know I can look after myself. And, although I really appreciate the help, I don’t always need it.”

“People need to take Kitty’s views into consideration not mine,” agrees Lucy.

“Kitty is still the same person – disabled or not.

From dropping off Kitty at school, battling a virus, to adapting to disability: Kitty, Lucy, and the rest of the family have not let anything hold them back.

Lucy fervently advises: “Try to stay positive. Do your research and understand all aspects of the treatments available.

“Have faith in the specialist doctors and staff that help you along your journey. They made our experience such a positive one. I can never thank those people enough.”

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