Tabatha Ketteringham lives in constant fear that an extreme form of asthma will kill her, as the slightest exertion can leave her bedridden and breathing “as if she is underwater" with “an elephant" sitting on her chest.
Ketteringham was just 17 when she was diagnosed with brittle asthma – a severe, little understood and sometimes life threatening form of the incurable lung condition. Now, she's been bed-bound for up to two weeks a month and needs a mobility scooter to get around.
Ketteringham is studying drama at Bristol University and aspires to become a special needs drama therapist. So, she is scared that it will stop her from achieving her dreams.
“Some days, I'm not able to even put my shoes on, walk up the stairs, or have a shower, because it leaves me completely out of breath," she said.“I can be fine one minute and then deteriorate very quickly, to the point where I can't breathe and have to go A&E, where I'll be hospitalized for a couple of weeks because I've picked up a chest infection."
When she is not hospitalized she can still spend up to two weeks a month in bed, unable to do anything without fearing she will trigger an episode.
“There are some days when I can't get out of bed. Those days it can be like there is an elephant sitting on my chest and like I'm trying to breathe underwater. It's really hard to get through it, but I have learned my limits," she said.
Tabatha with her nebulizer (PA Real Life/Collect)
“It's something I will have to live with for the rest of my life and learn to manage. I found it quite hard to think about the future at first – about whether I'll be able to have children or whether I have to rethink my career choice of being a teacher for kids with learning difficulties or a drama therapist," she said.
Ketteringham first began experiencing serious health problems at 13, when she struggled to get over a bout of pneumonia and became reliant on an inhaler.
“I kept getting recurring chest infections and had to stop doing all the activities I loved like dancing, gymnastics, horse riding and drama classes," she said.
Tabatha and her boyfriend Josh (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I would struggle to breathe and become very breathless all of a sudden," she continued.
“At the age of 15, I was diagnosed with asthma and was given different inhalers and medication, but I didn't respond very well."
“I started to have quite a few hospital admissions. Often I would be taken there in an ambulance, because I couldn't breathe and my immune system was so low that I'd get chest infections. It was clear the medication wasn't working for me."
In 2015, Ketteringham was diagnosed with brittle asthma which can be life-threatening and affects around four per cent of asthma sufferers in the UK, causing more frequent attacks than for people with the milder version of the condition.
“I had a long period in hospital with blood clots on my lungs and a bad case of pneumonia, which is when they realized how serious it was and I got a diagnosis," she recalled.
“I was scared, because I didn't know what it would mean for me, but also relieved, as I'd kept being told it was normal asthma and it felt like finally someone was acknowledging it was more extreme."
Tabatha with her nebulizer (PA Real Life/Collect)
“But the realization that I could actually die if I had a serious asthma attack was terrifying," she said.
Fortunately, her friends, family and her boyfriend are always there to surprise her.
Ketteringham now takes steroids every day and antibiotics three times a week. She also uses a nebulizer up to four times a day.
Tabatha and her friend Sophie (PA Real Life/Collect)
She still goes to university part-time, writes plays and short stories and works part-time in a restaurant.
“I try to get up every day and put my make up on," she said.
“I work part-time in a restaurant where I have a special plan so I can work behind the bar or on the glass washer so it is not too strenuous for me. My manager is very accommodating with my shifts. If I go to work I feel like a normal person, but it does wipe me out."
What to do in an asthma attack: 1️⃣ Sit up straight 2️⃣ Take one puff of your reliever every 30 to 60 seconds up… https://t.co/1ZlXjbCfhw— Asthma UK (@Asthma UK) 1594045800.0
“I stopped doing a lot of things like acting, which I loved, and can't do much physical activity or exercise, because it puts me at risk of an attack," she said.
“I have to use a mobility scooter if I go out, because walking leaves me out of breath and very tired."
Tabatha in hospital (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I probably spend about two weeks out of a month in bed," she said.
“Usually I'll be there for a couple of days, then able to get up again. Every other week I'm going to the doctor to get some adjustment to the medication I'm taking and probably end up in hospital four or five times a year."
Tabatha and her brothers (PA Real Life/Collect)
“In the early mornings my lungs will have filled up with mucus, so it sits on my chest and makes me feel very wheezy," she added.
But one of Ketteringham's biggest problems is with the general lack of understanding about her condition, with people dismissing it as "just asthma."
“There's a lack of understanding about how serious it can be. At times, I do get negative comments with people saying that if I lost weight it might help me, but they really have no idea what it's like," she said.
“People will try to relate to me, saying, 'I used to have asthma as a child and used an inhaler,' but it's not the same."
She's working hard to raise awareness.
“I've been posting videos on social media to try and raise awareness of brittle asthma, as I've even had nurses tell me that I should try a certain diet, but it doesn't help. This is a serious lifelong condition that could kill me," she said.
Now, her mom Kristin has launched a GoFundMe page to raise $3,765 to buy a special fan for Ketteringham's bedroom and an adjustable bed, which will allow her to sleep at an angle and stop the mucus collecting in her chest.
Kirstin visiting Tabatha in hospital (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Tabatha has a special fan to help circulate the air in her room and reduce the risk of infection, or of an asthma attack being brought on by dust. Her condition is affected by the weather, too, so if it's very hot and humid, it can make it worse for her," Kristin said.
“It's been on for 24 hours a day during the pandemic, so we are trying to raise money for a new one. Tabatha is not entitled to any government help because she works part time, but the money is running out."
“We were fundraising for a new nebulizer, too, but my sister Verena and her husband David Fuller very kindly paid for that and it's perfect, as she can take it with her when she visits friends."
One of the top misconceptions about asthma is that the condition only develops in children. This is wrong. Asthma c… https://t.co/0FOW9JGnIt— Asthma UK (@Asthma UK) 1593604800.0
“It's hard for Tabatha to do normal things, like go on holiday. We have to make sure she can travel with her nebulizer, that hotel staff know what to do if she needs to be taken to hospital and that they can accommodate a mobility scooter," she continued.
“She is just a 22-year-old girl who wants to be doing what everyone else at that age is doing. She is talented, bright and strong, and I'm so proud of the way she has handled this."
“We want to thank everyone who has donated so far, it's amazing and means so much to us."
To donate visit www.gofundme.com/keeping-tabatha-breathing