Katie Cooke is an 18-year-old girl who suffers with an aggressive and refractory form of epilepsy and she experiences more than ten seizures with loss of consciousness every night and day. How has she become an athlete and big advocate for those suffering with epilepsy and brain illness in Ireland? With her sheer and unshakable determination and focus, a motivation only Katie truly gets and shares with the world in glimmers of emotion on occasion, such as coming over the race finish lines.
At age nine Katie was diagnosed with frontal lobe epilepsy and although she did have a few years of a mostly managed illness, seizures started to breakthrough again by age thirteen. Her condition became difficult to treat and she spent almost 8 months as a long term patient at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Dublin in 2012 and 2013. This was a very difficult time for Katie. She spent the majority of time away from school and her friends and peers, she experienced extreme mobility, seizure, medication and psychological issues. She spent six months in a wheelchair and she rehabilitated out of the chair at home slowly in 2013 at age 16. She can sometimes suffer some transient mobility issues today but thankfully, they are not frequent.
Katie has only taken to running over the last twelve months or so and after building up her strength and regaining her mobility in 2013. She joined the local, very understanding and supportive, gym and began training and, in particular, running.
Although Katie has missed a lot of day-to-day school routines and other normal routines in her life, she has always been very clear on her independent needs and wants and she was never going to allow a 24 hour watchdog scenario in her life. The teenage to adulthood road is paved with parental challenges, these challenges sometimes appear magnified beyond belief for parents with adolescents with refractory epilepsy. Her family knew that they needed to help Katie find her way as a young adult and so every day they helped her go a little further.
Sometimes it seemed as is life was rushing by Katie and she wanted to catch up; her peers were getting part time jobs and talking about school plans. This was difficult for Katie. With her daily seizure patterns, it’s very difficult for her to find a suitable part-time role or an atmosphere that will support her wants. It can be an illness that can be so silently hurtful. Her family is very used to ‘one step forward, two steps back’ in terms of obstacles and challenges put in its paths. They wanted to help Katie win back her confidence and to be able to see her worth without having to put undue stress and pressures on herself. Well, Katie was having none of that, so it’s hardly surprising what came next!
After entering and completing the Dublin Women’s Mini Marathon in under an hour in June 2015 – a 10 kilometer race that attracts 30,000 runners each year, many running for charity – Katie then took on the challenge of running a Dublin Race Series, which she did in aid of a planned brain disease centre at St James’s Hospital, Dublin.
Running with a ‘Winning Spirit’ Despite her Seizures
The Dublin Race Series consists of 5 races in and around Dublin City over the summer and autumn months: 5 miles, 10k, 10 miles and culminating in a half marathon (13.1 miles). Unfortunately she was pulled out of one of the races because of seizures and, although she was very fit, it was touch and go as to whether she would get to run the final race in the series – a half marathon. So a plan was put in place with Katie running alongside Dr Colin Doherty, her consultant neurologist who is also a runner. They made a great team and encouraged one another and swapped tips throughout the half marathon. And when Katie fell, Dr Doherty was able to stay with her until she was ready to get back up. More importantly, he was there to reassure other runners that Katie was indeed OK! They completed the race in one hour, fifty five minutes, an unbelievable feat as Katie had three generalised seizures and fell with these during the race!
Incredibly, Katie and Colin went on to compete in the full Dublin marathon and despite Katie suffering seven tonic clonic seizures on the roadside during the four hours, eleven minutes it took for them to reach the finish line, Katie achieved first place in the female under 19 category. What proud and jubilant moment for both Katie and her family!
Despite the understandable view a person may have if they should see someone like Katie having a seizure in an unusual place, perhaps thinking ‘that can’t be safe’, Katie’s family would urge them to take a different perspective of ‘normal’ might be for some people. Katie’s Mum, Nicola, comments: ‘As we go about living and engaging as much as possible within the realms of our ‘normal’ life, along the way we’ve found that Katie has been steadily and resiliently rising above adversity and marking her path well and truly on her way to becoming an amazing young lady’.
Katie is, indeed a truly amazing and remarkable young woman.