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Courageous Katie using card scheme to make ill kids smile

She fights a connective tissue disorder which causes her chronic pain, frequent joint dislocations and immense fatigue – but that has not stopped 17-year-old Katie Callaghan from pioneering a project to cheer up sick children and teenagers.

The Birchwood High School student, who once spent ten months in hospital in a single year, started her initiative, Cards For Bravery, in May 2015 when she was just 13.

Katie’s connective tissue disorder is called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a collection of inherited conditions. It also causes her to have other illnesses, including chronic intestinal pseudo obstruction, which affects her digestive tract. This means that her stomach and intestines do not work properly, so she is unable to eat or drink.

“I rely on a central line into my heart to receive nutrition via my bloodstream called total parenteral nutrition,” she said.

Katie is also wheelchair bound, but she is determined not to let her illnesses beat her.

“Despite having these conditions, they do not own or predict how I live my life and I try my best to live a positive outlook,” she said.

Cards For Bravery came about when Katie was in the midst of a four-month hospital stay.

“I was having a difficult time and one day I received a card from a friend which really helped to brighten my day and made me smile,” she said.

“After a while, and a long talk with the head play specialist at my tertiary hospital, I decided that I wanted to start making positive, handmade cards for other hospitalised and seriously ill kids and teens. I’d been wanting to do something to help other unwell children for a while and this just seemed like the perfect idea.”

Katie’s project was born and she has not looked back.

“I understand how difficult it is to be a kid or adolescent in hospital, especially for long periods of time, as you can often feel isolated, forgotten, lonely or scared as the world goes by and you’re missing out on most things other children would take for granted, such as going to school or hanging out with friends,” she said.

“A handmade card is something so simple yet can really help an unwell child feel positive, happy and remain strong as well as really brighten their day and remind them someone is thinking of them.”

Since Katie launched Cards For Bravery, she has distributed more than 7,000 cards and has started sending bravery packages – care packages to youngsters aged two to 21 who receive a personalised box filled with goodies.

Katie lives in Cannons Close with mum Debbie and older brother William. She was one of BBC Radio 1’s Teen Heroes in 2017 and was presented with her badge at Kensington Palace by princes William and Harry.

Last August, a crew filmed her for BBC Three’s Amazing Humans, a series showcasing some of the world’s most inspiring individuals. Katie’s episode is expected to air later in the year.

Last Tuesday (March 5), Katie hosted a card-making session at Bishop’s Stortford Methodist Church in South Street.

Katie’s grandmother, Mary Gillies, is a member of the church’s Knit and Natter Group. She and Kate Rowe, who runs the twice-monthly group, organised the event.

“Our target was to make 100 cards and we made just over 200,” said Mary.

“We received a lot of financial donations, it really was a huge success.

“It was really quite heart-warming how generous, kind and wonderful everyone was. It was super.”

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