When Kayleigh Kirkham was one, doctors said she would never walk, talk or even sit up. But they were wrong. Catherine Scott meets her.
Kayleigh kirkham is a determined young woman.
Nothing makes her more determined than being told she can’t do something, and she has been told that a lot over the years.
Kayleigh, 27, suffers from diplegic cerebral palsy – which seriously affects the movement of her legs. She works with children with special needs, drives a car, travels to America and gives inspirational speeches about her life and founded a website Disabled But Still Able which has followers across the world.
But when she was one doctors diagnosed the condition and told her parents that she would never walk, talk, sit up or be able to live independently.
“My mum had gone into labour ten weeks early and doctors said that they could lose us both and they said my dad had to choose to save his wife or his unborn baby. I don’t blame him for choosing to save his wife, it’s what anyone would have done,” explains Kayleigh from Horbury, Wakefield.
“It wasn’t until I was one and failing to hit the normal milestones that doctors diagnosed cerebral palsy and told my parents their dreadful prognosis. But my mum is a very strong and determined woman. While they accepted the cerebral palsy diagnosis, they did not accept that I wasn’t going to be able to do anything.”
Kayleigh’s physiotherapist at the time knew Mr Tom William Smith, an orthopaedic surgeon at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, and suggested the Kirkham’s try to see him.
“He changed my life,” says Kayleigh simply. “He told my parents: ‘We will work hard and we will get Kayleigh walking.’ And he did.”
But it has taken years of treatment, operations and physiotherapy, hard work and determination from Kayleigh, her parents and surgeon.
She under went her first operation when she was three and it involved having her Achilles tendons cut to allow her to place her feet flat on the floor.
“Before that when I tried to walk I would walk like a ballerina on my toes as I couldn’t put my heels down,” she says.
“When I was about three and a half I managed to walk by myself. It think it must have been very emotional for my parents.”
Just before she started high school Kayleigh underwent a double osteotomy on her hips, to reform the legs to stop them bending inwards.
“Before I had the operation, my knees would touch in the middle” added Kayleigh. “I still have a limp when I walk, but if you would look at me now and see me then, you wouldn’t believe it was the same person.
“My balance is sometimes a bit all over the place but I have learnt to drive a car which has been adapted so that I don’t have to use my legs, all the controls are on the steering wheel. That has really helped give me a lot of independence, as I can’t use public transport as they often set off before you sit down and I would just fall over.”
She said the operations were difficult and she admits that she did sometimes get frustrated at school when she couldn’t do something.
“It is hard enough being a teenager but when you have a condition like mine then it is even harder. But it is the hand that I have been dealt and I just have to get on with it.”
Kayleigh left school at 17 as she craved independence and being able to earn her own money.
She started on an apprenticeship and now works for Wakefield District Council helping people with special needs.
Her greatest achievement, however, was when she travelled to America on her own for the first time.
“I have to plan everything down to the last detail to work out how I will get there and what will happen. But I was so proud when I did it the first time and now I just love to travel and spend time with friends.”
Kayleigh has also helped raise funds for The Children’s Hospital in Sheffield which she says helped make her life what it is today.
“I can’t put in to words how much I want to thank The Children’s Hospital for everything they did for me. They helped build my confidence, they involved me in every aspect of my treatment, and thanks to them I can do everything I was told I couldn’t.”
Kayleigh, as part of a group called FLAG fund-raising, raised £250 which will go towards the Charity’s Make it Better appeal, which aims to raise £10m regionally by 2016 to transform the hospital into a world class facility to match the world class care.
She was also asked to give a presentation to more than 100 people.
“It was nerve racking but I never thought that I would enjoy public speaking as much as I did. I have also been back to my old school and I would like to do more to inspire others who may have a disability to know that they can achieve despite what people say.”
This is one of the reasons she started Disabled But Still Able.
“It started as a blog a couple of years ago really for me to write down how I felt and what I had been through. Then I thought it might be of interest to other people, but I can’t believe how it has taken off.
“People have said it really inspires them and I now have a website and Facebook page which has followers in America, Brazil and Africa. It is strange as I never thought of myself as inspirational before.”