For the love of Caitlyn
Seriously ill little Caitlyn McAllister, from Larne, can’t walk or even move but she can certainly inspire a carer and her daughters to take part in next month’s Runher. Stephanie Bell finds out
Since she was just one hour old little Caitlyn McAllister has displayed a superhuman strength to survive what even medical science cannot explain.
A true miracle child, the six-year-old Larne girl has confounded leading experts across the world by her ability to endure constant seizures, each one of which is severe enough to kill her.
In her first 10 months alone, baby Caitlyn suffered 3,000 of the potentially fatal epileptic attacks.
Every day — as many as seven times — without warning her brain causes her body to go into spasm, slowing down her heart rate until she stops breathing and needs emergency resuscitation.
“The seizures are so severe doctors cannot explain how her wee body can sustain them,” says mum Paula Bakker (25). “Her medical reports have been sent to doctors in America and Europe and they have all been baffled by her and no one can diagnose her condition.”
Caitlyn was just one hour old when she took her first seizure. With their daughter given just a few days to live devastated parents Paula and Gary kept a bedside vigil at Antrim Area Hospital as they waited for her to die.
But Caitlyn’s amazing will to survive saw her continue to defy medical opinion and after her first birthday her parents decided it was time to bring her home.
“She needed 24-hour intensive medical care and it was still felt she could not survive and so it was a battle, but at 15 months we managed to get a care package in place to allow us to bring her home for the first time,” says Paula, who cares for her full-time.
Caitlyn is severely disabled and cannot see, speak or move. Round the clock care is provided with the help of family, social services and the health service.
Paula explains: “She has defied everybody and held on, and to be here six years down the line is just unbelievable. She is such a wee fighter and has such a gentle nature. It is hard to explain what Caitlyn has had to endure, we have lost count of the number of times we have had to resuscitate her. It is a miracle she is here today, she is amazing.”
Paula has been exploring alternative therapies to help reduce Caitlyn’s dependence on the 40 medicines she needs every day.
She has recently started a special diet to stimulate her brain as well as a programme of physiotherapy devised by the pioneering Brainwave Centre in Bristol.
Paula adds: “Within months of starting the programme we saw Caitlyn’s eye development improve, her head control has got better, as has her back control and taking weight on her legs to stand. I just feel we can’t sit around waiting for what doctors think is the inevitable and instead we need to do what we can to improve Caitlyn’s quality of life.”
A fund was launched to help to pay for care and therapy, and Caitlyn has also benefited from the donation of a hydrotherapy bath which helps provide pain relief.
It was given to her by Cash for Kids and has so improved the quality of Caitlyn’s life that one of her care workers, Paula Stewart, has decided to repay the charity by taking part in the Belfast Telegraph Runher on October 10.
Paula (38) — who aims to complete 5km along with daughters Darian (16), Kirbi (14) and Jaye (12) — has been caring for Caitlyn for two years.
She says: “She is just so lovable. She doesn’t talk and she doesn’t move but you know she is aware you are there for her.
“She really is one of a kind and I love her to bits. The hydro bath has made such a difference to the quality of her life that I really wanted to give something back to Cash for Kids. When I heard it was the nominated charity for the next Belfast Telegraph Runher I thought it was the perfect chance to do something to help them and say thank you. I’m delighted my daughters wanted to join me.”
Check out Caitlyn’s progress at www.caitlynmcallister.com
How to join Runher
The next Runher race at the Stormont Estate features a new route with fewer hills and more space at the start. You can even get a preview on YouTube.
The June 2010 Runher event saw a record number of entrants — more than 2,000 runners.
The Runher website has information on the route, how to enter and a range of training plans for the event.
The website also features information on corporate entries, which provide a reduced entry fee for groups of 10 runners or more.
Runners can take part in either the 5k or 10k races and walkers are as welcome as runners.
Runhers is being held on Sunday, October 10. Kids’ Race 1.15pm, adult race 2pm
For more information and how to enter go to www.runher.co.uk