Katherine’s story

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“St Clare doesn’t just help with the practical and medical things. They are there to support you emotionally and to go above and beyond to help you achieve your life goals.”

“As a teenager I developed cancer and was treated with radiotherapy. Further relapses were treated with chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. I was declared in full remission in January 2002.”

“It wasn’t until years later that we realised I had other issues and eventually I was diagnosed with heart failure when I was in my thirties.”

“I first came into contact with St Clare’s back in 2016. In August of that year I had undergone open heart surgery at Bart’s hospital. My heart condition had developed because the radiotherapy I had undergone as a teenager had affected a lot of my organs.”

“I was suffering from very leaky heart valves and there was calcification around my heart, so in the end my only option was for open heart surgery. In August 2016 I had one of the top surgeons perform the valve replacement surgery and removal of some of the calcification.  The surgeons were expecting the surgery to be complicated. It was meant to be a 4 hour procedure but ended up taking 10 hours as they struggled to replace one of the valves. When I came round, for some reason, nobody knows why, I had a full metabolic breakdown; my body just reacted to all of it.”

“So instead of being in hospital for 10 days I was in for four months.”

“When I was eventually allowed home I was ok for a few weeks, but I began to feel unwell again so I was readmitted to Bart’s. They repeated all the heart tests which showed that the other half of my heart was now failing. They carried on doing the tests and the only way that they could get on top of it was with a heart transplant.  They put me forward for a heart transplant consideration but 24 hours later they came back and said they didn’t feel that I was a suitable candidate. I think the news hit us all quite hard.”

“My consultant came in to the room with another consultant, and I think we knew that something was up. They talked everything through with me, and me being me, I just came out and asked – ‘so am I dying?’ And the consultant basically said ‘yes’.”

“We were given my diagnosis just two weeks before Christmas 2016. I just felt like I didn’t know what was going on during that time – Christmas was a complete blur that year.”

“The day after we came home from the hospital after the news, a specialist nurse called Irene came to visit us from St Clare.”

“I was obviously very nervous at first, about being referred to a hospice. I didn’t know what to expect, and you associate hospices as not very pleasant places. But Irene put a lot of our minds at rest.”

“I was also visited by Michele, the social worker. She came to see me and helped with some practical and financial things, like how I would manage being on sick leave from work.”

Michele helped with the paperwork side of things, and helped to see what benefits I might be eligible for. She just helped my whole family through it, because it felt like we didn’t have a clue.”

“I still continue to stay in regular contact with my clinical nurse specialist and social worker. They are both there for me if I have a bit of a dip, and Michele provides me with emotional support as well, which really helps.”

“The Hospice has helped me in all sorts of areas. My parents have come along and visited the Hospice, which has made them feel more comfortable about it as well. I have been to the Day Therapy groups at St Clare, as well as attending a Breathlessness Course which taught me techniques to manage my breathing. I am still having regular complementary therapy sessions at the Hospice, like massage, which is lovely.”

“The physiotherapists and occupational therapists have been brilliant as well.”

“They have been out to visit us at home and helped to install rails and things so I can get around the house, and in a matter of hours they helped get an oxygen supply installed in our house, which was amazing! They have just been so good at organising everyone who needs to come, and getting things done so efficiently.”

“Making sure things happen, and getting me the right, joined-up care, is what everyone at St Clare is so good at.”

“Irene, my specialist nurse, has been really good with my GP. I have umpteen medications and we’ve struggled with the GP to get the right medications, at the right time. My medicine doses change so much that sometimes, by the time a GP receives a letter, it could have changed another three times.”

“The Hospice liaising with the GP for us has just meant that we can actually get hold of the medicines that I need, quickly.”

“The team at the Hospice have also helped me to make choices about my end of life care plan, and realising that I can make the decision to be cared for by the Hospice in my own home has been really good. I like the idea that the Hospice at Home service will come to me in the comfort of my own home when I need it.”

“St Clare doesn’t just help with the practical and medical things. They are there to support you emotionally and to go above and beyond to help you achieve your life goals.”

“It was my Mum who approached Michele to ask if there was a way to organise a special birthday surprise for me that involved Formula One.”

“I have absolutely no idea how I got into Formula One, but I have been a fan of it since I was a teenager.”

“When I was 18 years old, I went to Silverstone and watched the Grand Prix, staying for the whole weekend and camping there. I was a fan of Lewis Hamilton as soon as he appeared on the circuit, back when his career first started as a back-up driver to Jenson Button.”

“I think Lewis Hamilton is an amazing driver. He worked his way up from go-karting as a child, to become the top in every single level. Unlike some of the F1 drivers, he doesn’t come from a wealthy background, and he had to work hard to get where he is. I think that makes Lewis even better. His dad had to work three jobs to fund his driving, and I think that’s what makes Lewis so down to earth, and keeps his feet on the ground. Lewis never forgets where he came from, or the work his family put in to help him get to where he is.”

“Michele helped Mum complete an application to the Willow Foundation who fund special days for seriously ill young adults. I was over the moon when I found out they had got me tickets to the Sunday race day, on 8th July at Silverstone.”

“I was so excited to know that I was going to the Grand Prix. I couldn’t believe that they managed to secure me tickets just 5 weeks before the event!”

“Since I have needed to be on oxygen 24/7 I have been quite nervous about leaving the house, and I haven’t felt very able to do the things I want to do. So it was great to have the day organised for us, and to know that we would have enough oxygen transported, and even a private driver so that Mum didn’t have to worry about getting us there.”

“But the excitement didn’t stop there! St Clare’s Communications team said they would help to try and organise some more special touches for our trip by making an appeal on Twitter.”

“We ended up being given two VIP tickets to the Friday after Stewart Tanner, the son of my Mum’s friend, heard about my story via Twitter. It meant we would get to see the drivers practice and have a tour of the pit-lanes. It was a fantastic addition to the weekend!”

“On the Friday we arrived and went into the special VIP Formula One Experience area, right behind the drivers’ and teams’ motorhomes and near the pit-lanes. The staff there were amazing, they couldn’t do enough for us. We had complimentary food and drink all day, and Mum and I went for a special lunch of prawns for starter and a mushroom stroganoff.”

“We had a great view of the track and watched the drivers’ practice laps from up on the balcony. We also got an amazing tour of the pit-lanes and garages, getting to see the cars up close, and I even got to hold the Championship trophies – they were so much heavier than they look on TV!”

“On the way back from the pit-lanes my Mum spotted a small crowd gathered at the back of the Mercedes garages, and she suggested we go and see what was going on. We were waiting when suddenly Valtteri Bottas, one of Mercedes drivers, walked out – followed by the one and only Lewis Hamilton! There was a man blocking my view but as Lewis walked past I suddenly felt the courage to speak up and say ‘please Lewis!’ – and he turned around and spotted me.”

“Lewis walked back and used my phone to take a selfie of the two of us – it was brilliant! It just felt like the cherry on top of the cake. I couldn’t stop smiling when I looked at the photo.”

“The Friday was topped off with an exclusive drive around the actual track on an open-top truck. We did a whole lap of the track which was amazing. You got to see the corners – which you actually don’t realise on TV are so sharp – and parts of the track which I didn’t realise were so uphill.”

“When we finally got in the car that evening I fell asleep straight away and slept the whole way home. We got back and went straight to bed, and I rested the whole of Saturday so that I would regain some energy for our return for the Grand Prix race on the Sunday!”

“On the Sunday morning we were picked up by a pre-arranged taxi. The driver was really thoughtful and had even brought me a wheelchair – not realising I had my own – and he helped my Mum to carry the oxygen tanks when we got there. We arrived at Silverstone three and a half hours before the race started, so we could take our time and slowly find our seats, taking in the whole atmosphere.”

“The race didn’t start until 2pm and beforehand there was this amazing display of old Formula One cars and planes, celebrating 100 years of the RAF. The Red Arrows did a full on display which was absolutely stunning!”

“Our seats were right at the front of the stand and the view was brilliant. We could see the whole track, and felt so close to the action.”

“Every time that Lewis Hamilton came into view, everyone in our stand stood up and clapped – there was a huge Mexican wave every time he drove past. It was amazing to be in with the action – you can just imagine the noise of the fans. It was such an exciting race, with Lewis getting hit on the second lap of the race which sent him to the back, and meaning he had to spend the rest of the race passing other drivers. We cheered so loudly every time he over took someone. It was a really exciting race and went right down to the wire, with Lewis coming in second place.”

“I got home on the Sunday after an amazing day at the Grand Prix, and thought the whole experience was over. But I didn’t realise there would turn out to be more surprises!”

“St Clare’s tweet about my F1 wish had continued to be shared around the internet and I ended up getting a phone call out of the blue on the Monday.”

“It turned out that someone associated with Tommy Hilfiger had seen the tweet, and they were holding a special private clothing launch the very next evening – with Lewis Hamilton as the star guest! Lewis was due to launch his own clothing brand with Tommy Hilfiger, and to announce that he would be one of their new ambassadors. Their PR team had managed to get me two tickets to the fashion launch and party, and they asked if I would like to come along to the event at their Regent Street store on Tuesday 10th July. They said they would also try and get Lewis to have a couple of minutes talking to me, and a chance to take some decent photos with him.”

“I said ‘yes’ straight away. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole day!”

“My biggest dilemma was working out what on earth I could wear to a fashion show! I knew everyone would be dressed in high-end clothing so I picked out my best dress to wear. Just as I was getting ready to leave on the Tuesday I suddenly had a massive nose bleed and ended up having to change. Cue trying to find a second suitable outfit in my wardrobe!”

“In the middle of trying to choose a new outfit my phone rang again. It was someone from Lewis Hamilton’s PR team saying that if we could arrive an hour earlier, we could come and meet Lewis at his hotel suite instead – for a private chat.”

“I was stunned into silence initially and I couldn’t believe it. I then managed to say ‘we will be there’, put the phone down, and said ‘Mum, we need to leave, now!’ We leapt into the car and headed straight to the hotel on Regent Street.”

“When we arrived in the hotel it was just jaw dropping – with chandeliers and marble everywhere.”

“We were met by someone from Lewis’s team, and everyone we came into contact with couldn’t have done more for us. Lewis was running a bit late meeting with journalists, so we waited in the hotel bar and they said we could have anything to eat or drink and put it on his tab. We had to wait for an hour but I didn’t care at all – we were just soaking in the excitement of being there!”

“Eventually we were taken up to Lewis’s suite – he had a whole floor of the hotel with a gym and a spa area, it was just amazing. The rest of his team introduced themselves including these big security guards! We were invited in to Lewis’s suite and it had this massive sitting room and really nice sofas. There was this big sofa in the middle which I parked my wheelchair near.”

“Lewis then walked in, he just came and sat down on the sofa, completely chilled and we just started chatting.”

“Once I got over the initial minute and a half of thinking, ‘oh my god, Lewis Hamilton is in front of me’ it was almost like talking to a friend, because he was so down to earth.”

“Lewis was very, very modest and we ended up talking for a full twenty minutes about racing. We spoke a lot about Sunday’s race, and I asked him if he was really aware of what the crowds are doing – because I found they had been so loud that day. But he said most the time he has his team talking to him on the earpiece, but they sometimes play some of the crowd through the radio to keep him motivated and fighting. It was so interesting hearing him talk about it.”

“Lewis took his time talking to me, nothing was rushed at all. He was so nice and kind – just the way I hoped he would be.”

“It was just so kind that he decided to see me privately – apparently it was his own idea that I come up to the hotel suite. He really didn’t have to do that, and to make so much effort, but he chose to.”

“I asked if he could take some photos with me and sign my Mercedes hat, and he said of course.”

“He knelt down next to me and took this really nice photo holding my hand. The smile on my face is just huge!”

“It was then time to leave for the Tommy Hilfiger launch so we said goodbye. We said we would see him at the press conference and we left for the Regent Street store. When Lewis walked in to the launch he looked at me and gave me a little wave.”

“Lewis apologised to the crowd because he was running late and I was sat in the front row thinking, ‘he was late because of me!’”

“The whole evening I felt like I was being treated like royalty – and things like that don’t usually happen to me, they just don’t! It is amazing to think that it all came about from that one tweet from the Hospice.”

“The whole three-day experience was so out of the blue. I had been so excited and looking forward to the trip on the Sunday – but to have the Friday VIP trip as well, and then the whole event on the Tuesday, was unbelievable.”

“The entire time on the Tuesday I was thinking ‘what on earth is happening?!’”

“Even now, after the event, it still feels like such an unbelievable experience. I still can’t quite believe it actually happened!”

“To have met Lewis Hamilton in his hotel for a private conversation is just what dreams are made of.”

“I can’t thank the staff at St Clare, the Willow Foundation, the people who shared my Tweet, Stewart Tanner, the Tommy Hilfiger team and Lewis Hamilton and his amazing team enough for everything that happened. It is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

– Katherine

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