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Couple Opens Up About How They Both Became Partially Paralyzed Within Weeks Of Each Other

Robin Thelander and Katheryn Abbatuan at a dinner party (Collect /PA Real Life)

This couple were left partially paralyzed within weeks of each other. Now, they share how they survived their ordeal by reflecting on a message scrawled on a napkin by a stranger, which has inspired their new business venture.

Robin Thelander and Katheryn Abbatuan were in Scandinavia in June 2019 when an older gentleman in a cafe wrote his theory of life on a napkin.

“Time, it is both the most valued and most wasted entity. Time is the most equal luxury possessed by all because we all have the same 24 hours in a day," the message read.

Totally in love, with thriving careers and sharing a home in London, the couple simply saw their encounter with the stranger as part of their vacation, never thinking his words would grow to mean so much.

Robin Thelander and Katheryn Abbatuan at Midsommar Celebrations (Collect /PA Real Life)

But, just a month later, time took on a whole new meaning when they were both left unable to walk after Robin slipped and fell on his back and crushed a vertebra in seven places.

A few weeks later, Katheryn was diagnosed shortly afterwards with functional neurological disorder (FND) which affects the workings of the nervous system.

“Sitting in hospital, not knowing how long I'd be in there for, it just felt as though time was passing me by," Katheryn said.

“I realized how spot on Oscar had been about how precious time really is."

Robin Thelander in Sweden (Collect /PA Real Life)

Katheryn and Robin had their first dinner date in May 2017, after matching on Bumble.

“We had a really lovely dinner and spent the whole time laughing. Robin's Swedish, but he's got such a British sense of humor – he's a dry as a slice of toast," she said.

In July 2019, when Katheryn started having severe lower back pain.

“I tried to shake it off and carry on, but the pain just got worse and worse," she said. “It was all down my lower left side, from my back to my left leg."

“If I put any weight on my leg, it felt as though an electric shock was going through it. It was like really extreme pins and needles."

Robin Thelander in hospital (Collect /PA Real Life)

Eventually, the pain became too intense to bear and Katheryn was admitted to London's University College Hospital (UCH).

DOctors could not make a diagnosis after a series of tests and scans on her spine, so she was given painkillers and told she would continue treatment as an outpatient.

But, in late August, she was readmitted to UCH.

"I was determined to try and live a normal life – even though I could barely walk – but one day I noticed my left leg had become red and swollen," she said.

Robin Thelander and Katheryn Abbatuan on holiday (Collect /PA Real Life)

“I had to take my laces out of my trainers, because my foot wouldn't fit in my shoe – it looked like it had been inflated," she said.

“I had to go back to hospital. It got to the point where I couldn't really walk. It was like a living nightmare – just a waiting game to find out what was wrong with me."

A few weeks later, Robin was helping a friend to move house when he had a freak accident.

“I was carrying large boxes when I slipped on some spilt water and fell flat on my back. Right after, I stood up and went and lay down in bed, but about an hour later, when I tried to get back up I couldn't," he said.

Taken by ambulance to north London's Royal Free Hospital, Robin had several MRI scans, which detected part of one of his vertebra had been crushed into seven pieces.

Robin Thelander and Katheryn Abbatuan on holiday (Collect /PA Real Life)

“I was told I needed to lie flat on my back for at least two weeks to try and recover," he said. “I wasn't able to sit up or even have a pillow to prop me up – it was awful."

Doctors told Robin his best option was to let his back heal itself.

He stayed at a friend's house for six weeks, during which time he had to wear a back brace and was given physiotherapy.

Robin Thelander in hospital (Collect /PA Real Life)

While he recuperated, Katheryn was referred to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Holborn, London.

“By this point, I wasn't able to walk without crutches and needed a wheelchair a lot of the time," she said. “My left foot was at a 90 degree angle and skewered inwards. It looked like a dead fish."

“I had no sensation in my left leg and doctors tried pricking me with a pin, but I still couldn't feel a thing."

Given a series of brain scans and nerve conduction tests, Katheryn was diagnosed with FND, a condition with a wide range and combination of physical, sensory and cognitive symptoms that can include functional limb weakness and paralysis, tremors and spasms, according to NORD, The National Organization for Rare Diseases.

Most patients find their symptoms improve naturally with time, but no one can say for certain how long this may take.

“It was a relief to finally have a diagnosis, but even then, doctors couldn't tell me what had caused it, if it would improve, or if I'd ever be able to walk properly again," said Katheryn.

In October, she asked to be discharged and has since been taking pain medication, as well as having regular physiotherapy sessions and using crutches to help her walk.

Robin Thelander and Katheryn Abbatuan wearing Oscar Fenston watches (Collect /PA Real Life)

Finally reunited, the couple made a pact to turn their misfortunes into a positive, and started discussing the importance of time.

“We experienced some of the darkest days of our lives, but we've always been determined to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Katheryn said.

“You never think at our age that you'll suddenly lose the ability to walk and have to teach yourself to do it again. Nor do you think that your partner will have a freak accident that'll leave him bed-bound too."

“Our lives were turned upside-down and I spent a long time being angry at the world. But, despite everything, we've always been determined to channel what we went through into a positive."

So, the couple thought back to their trip to Sweden in June 2019 to visit Robin's family, when they ended up killing time in Copenhagen, Denmark, after missing a plane home and went to a cafe in the city centre.

“It was there that we struck up a conversation with an older gentleman who was sat outside smoking a cigar. He told us he'd been traveling for business and he sounded like he had such an interesting life, so we invited him to sit with us and have a glass of wine or three," Robin said.

Katheryn Abbatuan in a wheelchair (Collect /PA Real Life)

“We were all a little bit tipsy and the conversation became quite intense. He told us his name was Oscar Fenston, he'd recently been divorced and regretted not having a happy marriage or children," he added.

“He started talking about the importance of time and how time is the most valued and most wasted entity."

“He also said time is the most equal luxury possessed by all, because we all have the same 24 hours in a day. We thought that was really poignant and asked him to write down what he'd said on a napkin."

Katheryn Abbatuan wearing an Oscar Fenston watch (Collect /PA Real Life)

“Shortly after that he left. We never asked for his contact details and never saw him again – but we kept the napkin," he said.

Now the couple are honoring the stranger and his poignant words, by giving his name to a watch brand they are launching on September 19, marking their own awakening to the significance of time and each day in our lives.

“One day we were reminiscing about Oscar's inspiring words and it just made us think about how important time was – especially when, in life, you never know what's around the corner. It seemed perfect that we should start a watch brand and name it after him," Katheryn said.

Robin Thelander and Katheryn Abbatuan at a wedding in France (Collect /PA Real Life)

“I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason. There was a reason why we met Oscar just before this all happened, a reason he wrote that message about time on that napkin and a reason why it inspired us to launch a watch brand," she continued.

“I first had the idea during a physio session. I was thinking, 'What symbolizes the importance of time?' Then it just hit me like a tonne of bricks – a watch!"

When she asked Robin if he would help her to launch a watch brand, he instantly agreed so she invested $6,600 from their savings and secured a start-up loan. The couple also secured $33,000 from an investor.

Robin Thelander being taken to hospital after his accident (Collect /PA Real Life)

“Katheryn wrote the business plan and I worked to secure the investment and to design the pieces for our collection," Robin said.

“I love the 1920s style with Roman numerals, but I wanted to make the watches a little different. I decided to go for a Perlon-style strap – made from plaited synthetic material – which is pretty unique for 1920s-style watches."

Oscar Fenston watches are described as “a classic watch that celebrates strength of character in an understated manner."

Priced at around $500, the couple also plan to donate a portion of their profits to Calmzone and a men's mental health charity that campaigns against Living Miserably.

Katheryn Abbatuan wearing an Oscar Fenston watch (Collect /PA Real Life)

“We've been through so much and we've come out the other side. We've both had to deal with the mental impact of these conditions, and we want to give something back to help others in a similar situation," Robin said.

As well as inspiring their new business venture, the couple say their ordeal has also made them closer.

“It's made my feelings for Robin so much stronger and, even more than before, it's made me realize he's the person I want to spend the rest of my life with," Katheryn said.

Robin Thelander and Katheryn Abbatuan on holiday (Collect /PA Real Life)

Robin said the experience had also taught them both humility.

“We've become so much more humble since everything happened. It's taught us not only to cherish every moment, but it's shown us the importance of time and that there's always a silver lining somewhere," he said.

“Our silver lining was Oscar Fenston. It's so important that people find their own and remember that time is precious. Time is one thing you can never get back."

To find out more visit oscarfenston.com