At age four, Kate Smith began to suffer from persistent respiratory illness, which doctors initially misdiagnosed as whooping cough, then all sorts of other viruses.
It took months of perseverance from her concerned parents before a doctor finally identified her condition as Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a life-threatening illness that affects the internal organs, clogging them with thick sticky mucus and causing breathing problems.
Now aged 32, Kate has defied doctors by exceeding the average life expectancy for a person with CF. It is hard to imagine that this career-driven and fiercely independent woman must take a daily cocktail of up to 40 pills, combined with regular exercise, to help keep her lungs active and clear of infection.
“You’d hardly know I was ill, if you were to look at me. I go out with my friends, have a drink, travel, work, all the things everyone else does,” says Kate.
As a child, Kate took a concoction of antibiotics to keep bacterial infections at bay. Regular physiotherapy sessions also helped to clear the mucus, and her doctors advised that exercise also would help keep her lungs healthy, which as a child was not a problem for Kate.
Her parents encouraged her to enjoy life just like her peers, and did not burden her with the details of her illness, but she says she always knew she was different.
In her early 20s, Kate started a career in publishing after graduating from university, and moved to London. The change in lifestyle was exciting and liberating, but a severe infection brought on by her illness forced her to give up work and move back home.
This was a massive blow to her, as it threatened the independent lifestyle she had always hoped to lead as an adult. Time in hospital left her thinking she was close to the end of her life but Kate rallied herself, gaining both the fighting spirit and sense of peace to stop focusing on fear of death.
Eight months of recuperation took its toll on her both mentally and physically, but as soon as she felt better she took a part time job at her local gym as a receptionist, so she could combine exercise with daily social interaction.
Kate credits this as helping to changing her life for the better. Over the following three years, she gained more energy and felt fitter and healthier. She was able to commit to doing longer shifts at the gym and even qualified as a fitness instructor.
Regular exercise also doubled her lung capacity, from 1.5L to 3L. With renewed confidence, she was able to take on a role as an ambassador for Cystic Fibrosis Trust, speaking regularly at events about the importance of exercise as part of a wider treatment program for CF.
Advances in medical techniques and treatments mean that Kate now has a tailored program which helps to keep the worst symptoms of her illness at bay. Although the daily routine can be exhausting, it has given her the freedom she desired, to live her life independently.
Kate recently returned to school to study for a Masters in Forensic Psychology, whilst also holding down a fulltime job as a Treatment Manager for HM Prison Service.
She realizes that a healthy work life balance is crucial in helping her to stay well, and she continues to make exercise an important part of her life.
“Cystic Fibrosis is such a difficult disease to live with and exercise is a crucial part of keeping healthy. Whether it is a quick burst on my Power Plate machine at home before work, or having fun with friends in a yoga or zumba class, it all helps me to lead a happy and healthy life,” says Kate.
As she looks forward to celebrating her 33rd birthday, Kate knows the future is full of hope.