May 2007 Pages 10-11
"Determined Katy Keeps On Smiling" Words: Louise Riddiough
n Aylesbury youngster who suffers with hemiplegia hasn’t let the condition get in the way of achieving her goals. Performing in front of royalty and 900 people in a concert that included celebrity musicians would be a daunting prospect for many, but for Katy Roberts she loved every moment and her future’s looking bright.
Katy, 9, was born with hemiplegia, a condition which affects one side of the body and is caused by damage to part of the brain. The effects are similar to that of a stroke and cause weakness or stiffness with poor hand function or mobility on the affected side.
Katy, from Weston Turville, is affected on the left side of her body and is mildly restricted on many things. Her father Chris, 48, explains: “When Katy was young doctors told us she may not walk because of her condition. They also explained that she would have little to no use of her left hand and arm. The muscles didn’t develop properly and it became visually apparent when we noticed Katy’s left leg was shorter than the other and her left hand was also smaller.”
Katy’s hand will always function inadequately, hindering her ability to hold objects like cups, and she occasionally wears a neoprene and bone splint on her arm. No longer needing a leg splint, she wears custom-made boots that are moulded to her feet with Velcro fastenings to eliminate tying shoelaces. Chris adds: “Occasionally Katy will need help with dressing as it takes twice as long as someone without the condition, and when she’s older she will need to drive a specially adapted automatic car. But she’s a very determined, independent young lady.”
Katy hasn’t let hemiplegia get the better of her and perseveres in improving her condition as much as possible. “I’m trying to achieve something with my hand so it’s not floppy, so I can get something done and use it three quarters more than I do now,” she explains. “I want to keep progressing in a straight line and be able to hold a cup on its own without support from my right hand. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have two proper working hands just for one day, to know how it feels, but I’m sure I’ll get by.”
Despite having hemiplegia, Katy, who confesses she’s a tomboy, has excelled in sports and is confident in most fields enjoying tennis, swimming, basketball, horse riding and rock climbing. “I particularly enjoy walking hills because it gets the muscles in my leg working,” she says. “I love anything that gets me moving. I really like swimming and eventually want to swim the English Channel!”
Katy, who attends Bedgrove Junior School, recently took part in a charity concert to help children with hemiplegia. She had been taking part in a series of music workshops organised by the charity, HemiHelp, and performed at Cadogan Hall in London.
The workshops provided a chance for children with hemiplegia to engage with music and try out specially adapted musical instruments. Hundreds of children from all over the UK attended these workshops and Katy was one of eight children picked to perform at the Children Helping Children concert in the presence of the charity’s patron, HRH Princess Alexandra.
Katy performed a piece called The Haunted House with the London Chamber Ensemble and played a special Dolmetsch descant recorder – designed to enable the player to perform using only one hand.
Speaking of meeting Princess Alexandra and fellow performer, internationally-acclaimed classical singer Hayley Westenra, Katy says: “It was very exciting meeting a member of the Royal Family. I was a bit nervous at first and nearly forgot to curtsy, but she was very friendly and asked me how I came to be chosen to be in the concert.
“The best bit though was meeting Hayley during the rehearsals and spending time with her afterwards. She asked if she could take me to see The Sound of Music show and we now keep in contact. She said I can even visit her in her hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand.”
Katy’s cheery outlook is an inspiration to all who meet her. Particularly so as despite living with hemiplegia Katy also sadly lost her mother, Nicola, to breast cancer when she was just five years old.
Being mature for her age, Katy openly recalls the time bravely: “It was shocking. I just felt so sorry for her even though I was so small. It was really hard for me as every moment was heartbreaking. We were always rushing into hospital. It changed my life forever and will never be the same without a mum.”
For Katy’s dad Chris it was equally a traumatic time, not only had he lost his wife but he was now the sole carer for his daughter. “It was difficult but there was only one thing to do and that was to knuckle down and get the situation under control for Katy’s sake - but I enjoy every minute taking on the mother role. When she was born Nicola always said she felt she had been touched by an angel having Katy,” he explains.
“I don’t know what I’d do without her as she’s so lovely. Katy’s known locally as ‘my shadow’ as she’s always behind me wherever I go, we’re inseparable,” Chris adds. “If you’re having a down day Katy will always bring a smile to your face. She’s good company, very funny and always so positive.”
Determined Katy explained she hopes to become an author when she’s older and is already writing a book. She also plans to climb Ben Nevis in Scotland this summer to raise money for breast cancer research.
For more information on hemiplegia log on to www.hemihelp.org.uk