LIFESTYLE
03/02/2015 12:15 GMT | Updated 03/02/2015 12:59 GMT

Girl Paralysed By Rare Spinal Condition Learns To Walk Again, Lands Her Dream Job As A Model

Katie Knowles is celebrating landing a dream career as a model, after a rare condition left her paralysed.

Law student Katie feared she’d never walk again after she was hit by a spinal condition that usually only affects pensioners.

After she lost feeling in her toes, feet, and thighs, Katie couldn't even get out of bed without help - but she amazed medics by ditching her wheelchair and learning to walk all over again after she underwent gruelling physiotherapy.

katie knowles

And now, Katie is loving her new life as a model – despite once fearing she would face life in a wheelchair.

Katie, 24, was a ballet dancer, swimmer, badminton player and horse rider, before developing disc degenerative disease and spinal stenosis at just 15 years old.

"When I realised I couldn't walk I felt like my life was over. I couldn't feel my feet and parts of my legs, it was horrendous - it was like I was paralysed," she said.

"I was so used to being active, I danced regularly, played Badminton for the county, and swam competitively, but suddenly I couldn't do anything at all.

Learning to walk was difficult and frustrating ("I got the nickname Bambi at physio because I was so wobbly," she says) but it was sheer determination that helped Katie pull through.

"Taking my first steps was just amazing, but the experience left me with no confidence at all," she revealed.

"A friend suggested that I should try some modelling, as she had already done it, so I agreed to take some pictures with her for fun.

"Before I knew it she'd put them online, and I had photographers and brands contacting me to work with them - it was unbelievable."

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Despite Katie's condition, she is determined to carve out a successful career for herself.

She said: "I still use my crutches all the time, and on a really bad day I'll use a wheelchair, but I won't let that stop me.

"I'll try anything at shoots because I want to prove to the photographer that I'm a good model.

"I once modeled on a horse, and it threw me off backwards - everyone else was concerned about my back but I was more worried about my hair and make up.

"I did a bridal shoot once, and one of the photographer's helpers had to hide under my dress holding me steady because I was quite unstable on my feet.

"But if there's a pose or a shot that the photographer wants, I'll do everything to make sure I can achieve it."

After years of living with pain, Katie was diagnosed with disc degenerative disease, hypermobility and spinal stenosis causing sciatica, in her teens.

The disease stunned doctors, who had never seen a case in someone so young before.

katie

Katie said: "When doctors first suspected I had the condition, they couldn't quite believe it because it's something that only happens to old people.

"They wondered if I'd some kind of trauma, but no one can work out why I have it - it's just one of those things.

"It's funny because now my Nana, who is 82, has been diagnosed with the same thing.

"I had surgery when I was 16 to remove the part of the slipped disc that was pressing on my nerve, in the hope that it would reduce the pain.

"The pain eased for about four years but then it returned so the doctors had to take more extreme action.

"They decided to remove the slipped disc, take a bone graft from my hip and put it where the disc was, then they put rods either side of the new disc and screwed it all in place.

"It took nine hours and was supposed to be the cure I needed, but I woke up in agony and completely unable to walk."

The once active student woke up to a completely new life - and was horrified to discover that she had lost her mobility.

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Katie embarked on a journey to get back on her feet - spending six months and out of hospital for the next six months.

Katie said: "I was out of hospital, but I still had a long way to go, plus my confidence was at an all time low.

"I'd put on a lot of weight in hospital, and I just felt like a different person.

"I couldn't dance or do any sports, and I'd lost my independence because I was so unsteady."

But after being introduced to modelling by a friend, Katie hasn't looked back since.

Katie said: "My friend, who also has mobility issues, suggested I try modelling, as it had boosted her confidence too.

"I had nothing to lose so I thought I may as well give it a go.

"As soon as I got in front of the camera I loved it, and the response was amazing.

"I'm now the face of some independent clothing labels, and I regularly pose for photographers.

"I'm also a model for Models of Diversity - a company that campaign for more diversity within the modelling industry.

"Disabled people receive so little representation in the media, so Models of Diversity is trying to change that.

"I'm really excited to be part of such an important campaign."

Now, Katie is trying to raise as much awareness of her condition as possible through modelling.

She said: "I was so young when I got this condition that there were no other people my age to talk to about it, I thought it was the end of the world.

"I want to show people that you don't have to let it hold you back - you can still achieve your dreams."