Katrina Brown

“I am grateful to everyone who donates to SSAFA. I appreciate now more than ever that being part of a huge military community is so important – and special”

Katrina Brown

“I am grateful to everyone who donates to SSAFA. I appreciate now more than ever that being part of a huge military community is so important – and special”

After raising thousands and spending every penny she had on a life-saving therapy, Katrina Brown needed help so she could continue to have vital regular check-ups. That’s when she turned to SSAFA.

Katrina, a former Lance Corporal in the Royal Army Medical Corps, was diagnosed with the life-threatening auto-immune disease Sclerdoma in 2008. By 2014, her health was deteriorating rapidly and the only way she would survive the condition was through a stem cell transplant in America. Time was running out, but the treatment didn’t come cheap.

Katrina explains, “It was my only option. It was either that or I was going to die. I was going downhill quickly. The risks were significant, but the benefits outweighed the risks”

After spending £20,000 on tests at a specialist hospital in Chicago, Katrina was told by her doctor she had a maximum of six months to have the transplant to stop the progression of the illness, or her condition would be beyond the point of treatment.

Katrina explains, “With Sclerdoma you produce too much collagen which makes all your connective tissue go really hard. It makes your skin goes tight, your joints are unable to move, your heart becomes tight and makes it hard to beat, your intestines become hard to move, your lungs…literally everything in your body turns to stone”

The hospital in Chicago wouldn’t arrange any treatment until the full cost had been paid. Despite the huge ask, Katrina was able to raise the £125,000 through a huge fundraising effort, with help from friends, family and strangers.

After the successful stem cell transplant, Katrina spent three months in Chicago, requiring regular tests and care as her immune system had broken down. She was reminded how serious her condition was, and the impact it was having on her family, when a man who was receiving treatment for the same condition died from complications.

“At the time I think I was just thinking about myself. I don’t think it was until that point that I thought about everything my husband was going through and what would have happened if I had died over there- I was so determined everything was going to be okay I didn’t really think about the effect it would have on him”

Katrina turned to SSAFA when she needed help to fund regular check-ups, to make sure the treatment had worked and to make sure she didn’t relapse. She needed to go to Chicago every year for 5 years to see the specialist doctor who treated her. Katrina said SSAFA secured £10,000 funding for flights and accommodation for her and her husband Cpl Martin Brown to make sure she got the care she needed:

“SSAFA’s support had a huge impact. Without that money I wouldn’t have been able to go out there every year. It’s quite a big financial tie for 5 years to have to go and pay for medical bills and transport and flights and everything adds up, so without them I wouldn’t have been able to go back every year – or it would have been extremely difficult.

“I am grateful to everyone who donates to SSAFA. I appreciate now more than ever that being part of a huge military community is so important – and special.

“But it isn’t just the financial support. My case worker has been there for us every step of the way. I was emailing him at 9 o’clock at night, calling him on Saturday’s… he is really the person that was pushing for me. All my fears and stresses got directed at him and he was supportive throughout all of that.”

Roger Wilson, Katrina’s case worker said: “I am very pleased to see the progress Katrina has been made, and it is satisfying to know that we were able to meet her needs and make her life better and easier.”

Now Katrina’s life has improved dramatically. She can work part-time, take part in para-snowboarding competitions and enjoy being with friends and family:

“I’m still learning my limitations, and I think I can do things I can’t, I push myself too hard, but it’s all part of the rollercoaster of recovery. Its just life now, just daily life.”

Katrina featured in 2019's Christmas Appeal campaign, which you can see here.