Real Life

Kate Chandulal-Dee's inspiring reason to smile

The fact she’s alive and thriving is nothing short of a miracle, but courage runs deep in her family.

By Aroha Awarau
Kate Chandulal-Dee's unique and infectious smile can brighten anyone's day.
It's a gift she's always had and, coupled with her optimistic outlook, it has helped Kate bravely face many challenges in life.
Kate was born with the rare genetic disorder Crouzon syndrome, which causes bones of the face and skull to fuse early, and has resulted in her having 138 operations to date.
"Overcoming all of the adversities in my life is like my superpower," she enthuses. "I know I can achieve anything in my life because I have learned from my experience. Going through the hard challenges makes it worth it because it makes all of the good things wonderful!"
The Weekly first met Kate back in 2010.
The Weekly first met Kate in 2010, when she was just seven years old and starting school. Now 20, Kate is all grown up and has just finished the last of her exams at Edgewater College in Auckland. She's looking forward to entering tertiary study and plans to graduate with a degree in the creative arts and media.
"School has been important to keep me going and to help me with my self-confidence," she tells. "Through school, I found my abilities and talents, like writing and drama. I've also learned how to be enthusiastic and passionate."
As a child, the thought of attending school encouraged her will to live. Unbelievably, Kate had nearly died several times. She'd contracted a deadly infection resulting in a build-up of fluid on her brain that meant she had spent a year in hospital fighting for her life. Kate wasn't expected to live long, let alone start school.
Doctors refused to remove the fluid from her brain, meaning a death sentence for the youngster. Despite the grim prognosis, her mum Bridget was determined to see her daughter survive.
"Mummy, I don't want to die," Kate whispered and it was these words that inspired Bridget, who also has Crouzon disease, to take action and find a lawyer who would force the doctors to treat her daughter.
With Mum beside her, Kate pulled through 138 operations.
Her determination paid off. Doctors performed the drainage procedure and Kate recovered. After nearly a year at Starship Hospital, she was finally well enough to go home and start school.
A single mother to Kate and her son Ben, 21, who has autism, Bridget says seeing Kate develop and become well enough to finish school and start her new adult life is a true miracle.
"Kate has this amazing charisma and people instantly love her," she says, smiling. "There have been several times when I've been told she's not going to make it, but she has always proved those people and expectations wrong. The teachers have said that Kate has such an influence at her school. I'm proud of what she has achieved."
Kate's many operations have involved serious and life-threatening procedures.
She's had two titanium rods placed down her spine, three shunts placed in her brain and spinal cord, along with full facial and skull surgery.
A get well visit from cousins Milly and Josh.
One important procedure when she was 14 was the removal of a tube from her throat that helped her to breathe. After it was gone, Kate could finally eat food. She took an instant liking to pizza. "It was like my mouth was waking up for the very first time," she recalls.
Now Kate is older, she says the majority of the operations she needs have been done, so she can now focus on her future. "We have passed the stage where my surgeries are planned. Sometimes things
go wrong, but the surgeries are getting fewer and now I can just focus on living a life outside of the medical world."
Kate loved her time at school and excelled in writing and art. Last year, she challenged herself and took up drama. She was cast as a nurse in a school production of Romeo and Juliet. Kate has also written four books and recently shot, wrote, and edited a documentary called Still Smiling, about the challenges that she has faced in life.
"I'm going to miss the teachers and the school community. But I will remember what they have taught me and that will help me to carry on. They have taught me that I can achieve anything with enthusiasm."

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