Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, 20-year-old marathoner Katie Cooke has won prestigious events in her age category, and can even run a 5k in less than 17 minutes. That’s pretty good for someone who can fall unconscious at any given moment.
Katie was diagnosed with frontal lobe epilepsy when she was nine years old and suffered for years from multiple seizures throughout the day. When she hit puberty, the frequency of the seizures increased, and the numerous medications she took to control them were making her dizzy.
That dizziness led to a hospitalization several years ago, where doctors put her on a different medication that left her in a six-day coma. After a lengthy hospital stay, she lost her ability to even walk, and was relegated to using a wheelchair to move around.
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“I wasn’t able to get out of bed. I wasn’t able to do anything for myself and couldn’t really speak. My Mum was dressing me and showering me,” she says.
But she slowly regained her strength, and eventually went from standing to walking – and, ultimately, running marathons.
When I gradually started getting back into running, it kind of gave me this newfound energy, I don’t know why. I put on my running boots and started running … It’s so cliché, but you kind of feel like on top of the world, that you could do anything.
She still has more than a dozen seizures each day, which the running doesn’t help: When her heart rate increases, so does the number of her seizures. But her heart rate would increase even if she were just walking, “and I think the general benefits outweigh these risks,” says her neurologist, Dr. Colin Doherty.
Dr. Doherty, who specializes in epilepsy, enjoys running himself, and any time Katie signs up for a marathon, he runs along right beside her. Before, if she suffered a seizure during the race, “people would quite reasonably insist that she be carried off the course, much to her displeasure,” he says. “So my job is to say, no, announce that I am her doctor and that she’s fine, she’ll recover, and then she gets up and she runs.”
“I don’t let anything get in the way of living life at all,” says Katie, who plans to study sports management in college. “I just don’t think it’s the way to go.”
Having epilepsy and all the complications that come along with it would make most people give up their favorite sport in favor of something simpler and, some would say, safer. But this passionate young lady has the guts and determination to move forward despite her medical condition, and should serve as an example to us all that no matter what obstacles life throws at us, nothing can stand in the way when we want something badly enough.
Check out her inspiring story below.
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