Double trouble

28 March 2017

Eleanor and Imogen Cates are remarkable for more than one reason. The identical teenage twins have had a number of challenges in their short lives. Despite this they have big plans for their future, including winning an Oscar and becoming prime minister. Chloe Crouch discovered how our Children’s Therapies Service has spent a decade supporting their needs.

When Eleanor and Imogen Cates were born, the relief for mum Jo was enormous.

“We found out at our 17-week scan we were expecting twins. The pregnancy wasn’t too difficult but when the girls were born early they were quite small and they were closely watched.”

Born without a sucking reflex, the girls had to stay in hospital for 10 days and be tube-fed. Jo said: “They never really fed well, were always unsettled and seemed to cry much more than my two eldest children did when they were babies. Even up to the age of 15 months, they were quite prone to chest infections and we noticed their development seemed more delayed than expected.”

It took a family holiday to Corfu and an unexpected trip to hospital for Jo to feel listened to and finally get the help they needed. “Eleanor and Imogen were finally diagnosed with cerebral palsy when they were two-and-a-half. At first it felt like a bit of a life sentence but at least we had a diagnosis and we were able to put a lot of support services in place,’’ Jo said.

Over the years Eleanor and Imogen, 13, from Maidstone, have received support from a number of services to help make life that little bit easier and support them to live as normal a life as possible.

“We made the decision early on that we wanted the girls to go into mainstream education,” said Jo. “From nursery through to the secondary school they are at now. The support we have had from the Children’s Therapies Service made this possible.”

From specialist chairs, wheelchairs, hand rails, walkers and an adapted wet room to support from physiotherapists and occupational therapists, Imogen and Eleanor have been supported by a team dedicated to helping them through challenges they have faced since birth.

Sue Court, Professional Lead for Children’s Occupational Therapy, said: “Eleanor and Imogen are two remarkable young ladies and it has been a real pleasure to see them settle into secondary school and do so well.”

While both girls have received support from the service, it is Imogen who has faced more challenges than her sister Eleanor. The cerebral palsy makes movement and co-ordination difficult, affecting her arms and legs and her balance. She often uses a walker and for long distances, a wheelchair. Her fine motor skills are affected, making ordinary tasks much harder.

The adaptations and support have been vital to both girls, but it was the help they had from the therapy team to develop management strategies when they started secondary school that has been invaluable, such as learning keyboard skills.

Mum Jo said: “I spent three years worrying about how they would get on at secondary school. I knew maintaining their independence would be a challenge and I was worried there would be so much focus on the academic side that they wouldn’t be given the opportunity to develop in their own time.”

In fact, the transition has been better than the Cates’ family could have imagined. The girls are now in their third year and are already shining in their favourite subjects.

“I am really enjoying my health, social and citizenship subject and Eleanor loves drama,” said Imogen, a devoted Tottenham Hotspur fan and keen future politician.

“I am really interested in politics and helping my community and people like me. I think it’s important that disabled rights are recognised.”

Jo said: “Before secondary school I would never have dreamed Eleanor would get up on stage and perform in plays but she is an absolute natural!

And Imogen is just fascinated by politics, she knows more than I do and I am normally asking her for advice on who I should vote for.’’

Sue recently asked Imogen to speak about her experience of the service. She said: “There were 100 professionals at our meeting. Imogen was amazing she stood up and spoke to everyone and we were all really moved. We’ve all decided she will make a great prime minister one day!

“Working with Eleanor and Imogen has been a real privilege. Their hopes and dreams are as uplifting and infectious as their personalities and their openness to acknowledge their challenges but not let them hold them back in life is inspirational.”

Eleanor said: “There are certain areas of life where we need some extra help. It’s nice knowing there are people there who can help make life a little easier”.