Kate’s Journey

by David Hunt

Kate Adamson felt her left side give way under her as she was getting dressed after her morning shower. She stumbled to bed, woke her husband Steven, then panicked when she discovered that her left arm wouldn’t move. She tried to scream, but a stream of slurred sounds was all she could manage.

For the next 70 days, the 33-year-old mother of two would hover between life and death in the intensive care unit at Torrance Memorial Hospital, the victim of a massive stroke.

“I woke up in the ICU and I couldn’t move anything,” she said. “I couldn’t wiggle my toes or move my fingers. I was trapped inside my body.”

It was June 29, 1995 and Adamson was beginning a painful, frustrating and courageous journey to recover from one of the most severe strokes her doctors had ever seen. It was a tragic case, a surgeon said at the time. Death would be a blessing.

Kate Adamson walks to the front of a classroom at Manhattan Beach Middle School, limping noticeably but purposefully to the blackboard. For the next 40 minutes she carries on a dialog with the junior high students, challenging them to experience her world — voluntarily and temporarily. With their left arms tied to their sides, some of the students attempt to tie their shoes, wrap a birthday present, and navigate the room in a wheelchair.

Kate Adamson shares her story with students in Manhattan Beach. Photo by David Green. Living without the full use of one side of your body, they discover, is tough.

kate adamson in classroomOver the course of a week, Adamson will visit with more than 400 students, challenging, educating and inspiring them to walk in someone else’s shoes. Her message is simple. Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t.

“All of us are paralyzed in some way,” she tells the kids. “All of us have something that stops us from moving forward.”

Adamson’s recovery began in the blink of an eye. As she lay in the intensive care unit, connected to breathing tubes and intravenous feeding lines, Adamson could do nothing but think and pray. Without the ability to move, she had no way to communicate with the outside world, no way to tell her doctors or her husband that she was awake and aware.

Then her husband, desperate to reach her and grasping at straws, asked her to blink her eyes if she could understand him. It took all her energy to make it happen, but somehow Adamson found the strength to do it — she blinked.

Steven Adamson scrawled a note and posted it over her bed. It read, “This is a human being lying here. She understands what you say. Please treat her as a person.”

He also brought an alphabet board to the hospital. He would use a pencil to point at each letter and Adamson would spell out words by blinking when the pencil moved over the correct letter. She was so exhausted she only had a 20-letter vocabulary for the first few weeks.

The first word she spelled out was “Home.”

Adamson’s recovery from her stroke is a testament to her determination to reclaim her life as well as the skill of the medical professionals who worked — first to save her life, then to assist in her physical rehabilitation. Adamson calls them her angels and has stayed in touch with many of them.

The hard work of physical rehabilitation began at Daniel Freeman Hospital, where a team of physical, occupational and speech therapists worked with Adamson for three months to help her return to the mainstream of life.

“I still have to drag around one side of my body,” she said. “I’m still learning to adjust to a body that functions differently.”

And she carries the emotional scars left by the trauma. It’s difficult to be the object of curiosity when she goes out in public.

“Everybody’s attention goes to my leg brace,” she said. “You can tell people are thinking, what’s wrong with her, why does she walk like that.”

As a speaker for the National Stroke Association, Adamson is challenging herself to overcome these emotional hurdles the same way she overcame the physical ones, through sheer force of will. Sometimes, at the end of a presentation, she stops to slip on a pair of high heels, proving that even a stroke survivor who walks with a limp and carries a heavy brace on her leg can be glamorous.

“I used to wear heels all the time before the stroke and I’m still grieving the fact that I can’t wear them anymore. Then I remember what I’ve been through and realize that wearing any kind of shoe is a miracle for me.”

Reprinted with permission from SouthBayHealth.com