Locked-inside herself, Ruth wants to be free again

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Ruth Haslam from Whitwell, between Bolsover and Worksop, has been living with Locked-In Syndrome for nine months. With steady recovery it could soon be time for her to come home from hospital – so her friends and family are trying to raise funds for the support equipment she needs.

Friday night is curry night.

Ruth is stuck in hospital so her boyfriend Tom comes by every single day to see her and bring her meals.

But it’s more than that – she is stuck in her own body.

He mashes up the creamy Chicken Tikka Masala.

Ruth blinks, and blinks again. It takes her a matter of seconds to type with her eyes – she has to stare at letters on a screen 12 times to say: “Thank you, Tom”.

The 24-year-old bar manager had a stroke in January and since then she has been living with the trapping condition.

Also called cerebromedullospinal disconnection or a pseudocoma, Locked-In Syndrome is an almost total paralysis which patients say is like being buried alive in your own body.

Otherwise, she is completely cognisant.

“She’s exactly the same person as she was before the stroke,” says friend Becky Woods, a 23-year-old teacher at Creswell Junior School.

“She’s intelligent, she’s outgoing, she’s witty – she laughs, she cries – she’s the same girl just locked in her body.”

Still unable to speak and barely able to move, Ruth is undergoing physiotherapy and her dad, Alan, says everyone praises Ruth for her hard work and determination on the road to recovery.

He adds: “Her spirit and attitude these past nine and a half months has been amazing.”

“Ruth is a bright girl and so popular, which has been shown in the brilliant support she’s received.”

The hospital provides intelligent equipment to help her control her environment and to communicate.

But it doesn’t only help her speak – she is online, and like any young woman would be, Ruth spends a considerable amount of time on Facebook – giving her the chance to communicate with people from her hospital bed and to express herself at a time when it is so important she doesn’t feel isolated.

Ruth says: “Before I got this Eye Gaze literally all I could do was lay here but now it’s brilliant keeping in touch with friends like I would normally.”

And Becky says it is amazing how strong Ruth has been adjusting over the past nine months, and staying positive through everything.

“She’s unbelievable, nothing phases her. No matter what is thrown at her she just keeps going and going,” she adds.

“She’s always laughing and joking. I always used to want to attack her with hair dye, and now I go in all the time to paint her nails and straighten her hair.

“She has a running joke with the nurses that I’ve been trying to give her a makeover for years and now I have my chance because she’s defenceless.”

“I cant argue with her,” says Ruth. “I joked just last week that I cant run away from her.”

Ruth finds it incredibly important to keep a sense of humour, and she’s always having a laugh with people at the hospital.

“I tell my occupational therapist that he can’t drive a wheelchair and I make my physio dance to Beyoncé in the middle of the ward,” she adds.

Ruth used to enjoy playing cornet in the Whitwell Brass Band and is a big fan of rugby.

At the moment she’s having to spend a lot of her time watching films and TV – she loves The Great British Bake Off, and Becky says she’s taken up reading.

“Well, reading Facebook statuses is about all I can manage,” adds Ruth.

But soon she will be able to occupy her mind with the planning of a very special day.

Ruth had only been going out with her boyfriend, Tom Whitaker, for a short when she had her stroke – since then Tom has been hugely supportive, visiting her at Chapel Allerton Hospital in Leeds every day and bringing her meals.

And a few months ago, Tom proposed.

“Tom has been unbelievable doing everything he can for me, it’s also hard for him,” says Ruth.

“He says he’s going to propose again because lying in a hospital bed is not exactly romantic, but he does everything to make me feel special.”

Ruth’s recovery has been developing steadily.

Since being utterly unable to move she has some strength back in her arm and can move her head from side to side.

“She takes every step at a time, says Becky. “And we’re hoping to get her home before Christmas,”

But to do that they need to raise the funds to install support equipment – including a hoist and electric wheelchair - and continue her treatment at home.

“Ruth is very independent, so we want her to be as mobile as she can,” says Becky.

“She’s been in hospital since January, it’s a very long time.”

So Ruth’s family and friends have been fundraising heavily with the Raise the Roof for Ruth campaign, and their next event is to be held at her old primary school, Creswell Infant School, on Friday, January 17 from 8:30 to 10am.

“We are having a coffee morning, with cakes baked by all the kids and local businesses are donating prizes to put in a raffle. We would love anyone in the community to come and show their support,” adds Becky.

Ruth’s target is to take part in these events, and for an upcoming walk in April, she would like to attend herself.

“Even if she’s in a wheelchair she wants to be there,” says Becky.

“Come rain or come shine.”