Angela Saurine, Work/Life Daily, The Daily Telegraph
January 3, 2016 7:00am

SHE was at the top of her cricketing game when Kath Koschel received devastating news.

After years of hard work and a determined fight against injury she was told she had to have a leg amputated.

She had been playing the game since she was eight, the only girl in her team throughout her childhood. By 24 she had fought her way on to the NSW Breakers women’s team and was named player of the match after scoring a 50 on her debut.

It was about this time she had begun to lose feeling in her left foot.

A scan revealed two vertebrates in her spine had slipped out and were compressing on her nerves. She developed foot drop, and began dragging her foot along as she walked.

Koschel had two operations, including a disc replacement which made her 4cm taller, and was given the all clear. But a few months later her leg began to feel heavy and became discoloured. One morning she woke to find she had no feeling in her leg from the hip down, and had lost control of her bladder.

Kath Koschel in action during a City v Country Twenty 20 match at Blacktown Olympic Park.. Picture: Supplied
When she fell on the floor trying to get out of bed she knew something wasn’t right and drove herself to hospital, where she was told the blood pressure in her leg was dangerously low and doctors would have to amputate from the knee down.

She begged them to hold off, and was given two weeks to get it back to an acceptable level through exercise. She spent up to eight hours a day at the gym, sometimes at 2am or 3am, with security guards helping her put her leg into a bike machine.

“A week into my two-week deadline I was exhausted and wasn’t sleeping,” she says. “I remember coming home and breaking into tears. I’d resigned myself to the fact my leg was going, but I was going to give it my all.”

With the help of an amputee mentor from non-profit organisation Limbs 4 Life she began making plans to have a ramp installed at her house.

But she won her battle and after a third operation she was admitted to Royal Ryde Rehabilitation Hospital, where she had to learn to walk again.

It was there she met and fell in love with Jim Punter, a rugby league player a year her senior who had damaged his spine in an obstacle race.

“There were a lot of older patients in the ward and we had a lot in common,” she says. “We were both very active.”

But worse was to come. After the couple had been going out for a year, Jim inexplicably took his own life the night before he was to be released from full-time care.

“Losing your partner to suicide is very tough,” Koschel says. “There’s so many questions in your head. Did I tell him I loved him or not? Did he love me? You can drive yourself crazy, which I did for a while.”

She ignored the fact it had happened for about 10 months, but after suffering another setback and returning to the rehab hospital where they met Koschel suffered a complete emotional breakdown.

She flew to the Gold Coast, where Punter was from, on crutches, and spent three weeks there.

“I cried a lot, and just allowed myself to feel it,” she says.

Now aged 29, Koschel has five titanium discs in her back, still can’t feel anything below her left knee and walks with a slight limp. But while she can’t play cricket, she relishes her job as Cricket NSW operations manager and competes in ironman events, including riding 180km on a bike, swimming 4km and running 42km.

She believes she is the first person with disc replacements to compete in a full ironman event.

On the third anniversary of Punter’s death in November she launched a website called Kindness Factory, which shares random good deeds — from paying for a stranger’s petrol to feeding the homeless and buying coffees and cake for chemotherapy nurses.

The idea was fuelled by Koschel’s gratitude for friends and family who helped her when she needed it, and has snowballed through social media.

One night Koschel bought dinner for a hairdresser. In turn, he has begun giving away one free haircut a month.

“I like to think they then go and do something kind, the feeling you get from giving is just as good as receiving,” she says. “Everyone has a story and you may not know that they might be fighting their own inner demons.”

See kindnessfactory.com or follow Kindness Factory on Facebook

For support and information about suicide prevention contact Lifeline 131 114

Kath’s tips for coping

• Surround yourself with positive support networks

• Don’t be stubborn

• Don’t give up

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