AFTER more than a year with her husband Derek Draper’s life hanging in the balance as he battled Covid in hospital, Kate Garraway’s prayers were finally answered in April 2021 when the TV host was told he could come home.
Derek is paralysed and cannot eat or drink unaided, requires round-the-clock care and still struggles to communicate since coronavirus ravaged his body and brain.
Kate Garraway has helped others by opening up about beloved husband Derek’s terrifying health battleCredit: Rex
Kate has been pushing her husband Derek Draper to stay positive as he recovers
Derek still needs round-the-clock care at homeCredit: Eroteme
Meanwhile, the fear of him dying has never left Kate, 56, or their children Darcey, 17, and 14-year-old Billy, because he has been rushed back to hospital so many times.
In her new book, The Strength Of Love, Kate shares the ups and downs of family life since Derek’s return to their home in North London.
Her moving documentary about Derek’s case won an NTA award last year.
And in these exclusive extracts, she reveals how the stress of caring for Derek, 56, while juggling her high-profile TV career, money worries and more almost broke her.
IT WAS November 2022. I woke with a start as my alarm sounded.
It was 2am and time to get up to present Good Morning Britain.
I tried to reach for the off button, but my arm wouldn’t move.
I tried again, but again nothing happened.
My hands were on top of the duvet, tightly clenched and pointing upwards at a strange angle, like I was ready to sling a right hook.
I tried to relax and uncurl my fists but couldn’t. It was like having an out-of-body experience, except I hadn’t escaped my body — my body seemed to have escaped me.
The alarm was still blasting away.
“Mum, for God’s sake, turn that thing off!”, Darcey screamed from the room next door.
I breathed in deeply, focusing only on my breath. “Don’t think about it,” I told myself. “Just do it.”
I was talking to myself the way I had heard therapists in hospital speak to Derek when they were trying to encourage him to move.
Covid had damaged the neural connections between his brain and his limbs, and it was as if he had forgotten how to lift his hand.
They tried distracting him so he would move instinctively.
I rolled out of bed on to my knees.
“Phew,” I said, then almost immediately, “Aarrrrrgggh!”
There was a searing pain in my chest — as though someone had punched their fist through my breastbone, snatched hold of my heart and squeezed.
The pain was sharp and excruciating.
Then I realised that it wasn’t a sudden onset of pain. It had been there all the time. My temporary paralysis had distracted me.
Then came the thought, “Oh God, was I having a heart attack?”.
Still on my knees, I threw up on to a pile of papers next to my bed. I was startled by a banging on the front door.
I looked at the clock — it was 2:40. It must be the driver . . . I was already late.
In the car I tried to read my briefing notes for GMB. But nothing I was reading seemed to stick.
I started to feel slightly dizzy, so I opened the car window and felt the rain on my face.
Suddenly it wasn’t rainwater on my cheeks. It was tears.
It was as though my feelings had found a way to escape a tank that I’d tried to seal.
I thought of how I’d felt when I’d woken up — the awful sensation of being trapped, paralysed.
I knew that must be how Derek feels every morning, when he wakes up and cannot move.
He’s not in control of his body or mind — imprisoned. Except, for him, there is no chance of breaking free.
But why was my body reacting like this?
Could I be so desperate to help Derek that I’d started having sympathy pains?
Or was I actually sick too?
(Oh God, who would look after our poor kids?)
Or had I been fighting for so long that my body was preparing for battle — fists up, rigid against the onslaught — even while I slept?
Nausea swept over me and I asked the driver to pull over.
I was sick in the kerbside drain, cringing at how shameful it was.
I got back into the car, the pain in my chest now all-consuming and creeping up my neck and into my jaw.
When we got to the studios, I went straight to my dressing room and collapsed on my sofa.
I phoned Jen, the editor for the show, and told her I wasn’t feeling well. She was there within minutes.
When she saw me, her face fell.
Gathering herself, she said: “I am going to call Dr Hilary [Jones].”
That’s the first thought for anyone who works in ITV breakfast television who has any medical worry.
In fact, I had called Dr Hilary — breakfast TV’s doctor to the nation for more than 30 years — on the day Derek first became sick. I didn’t want to wake him so early, but Jen insisted.
A producer called Alex handed me the phone and I told Dr Hilary my symptoms.
He was adamant — I needed to go to hospital right away.
“Don’t call an ambulance,” I pleaded with Alex. “Honestly, I’m sure it’s nothing and I’ll never get back in time to do the show.”
She looked at me in disbelief. “Kate, there’s no question — you’re not going to do the show.”
I didn’t want to accept it. Keeping going and being the resilient one was what I clung on to.
Over the past two and a half years, I’d pushed through after being up all night; when Derek’s life was hanging in the balance; when I had been talking to him on FaceTime from his intensive care bed as he spiralled downwards, saying he couldn’t go on.
I’d told him he could go on, reminding him of all he had to live for, while he sobbed — seeing the clock tick closer to the time when I had to get up for GMB, not having had any sleep.
“Definitely don’t call an ambulance,” I told Alex. “I’ll get a taxi.”
“In that case, we’ll have to find someone to go with you,” she said.
From then on, it’s all a bit of a blur. They found a junior producer called Charlie to come with me — an adorable young lad in his twenties.
When we arrived at the hospital, we almost literally fell into A&E.
‘Such an inspiration’
“I think I’m going to have to lie down,” I said, and collapsed on the floor. Poor Charlie ended up half-carrying, half-dragging me across the room.
Suddenly I was swept into a first response area, where they quickly put monitors on my chest, took blood tests and blood pressure rates and measured oxygen levels in my blood.
I was given painkillers while we waited for the results.
Eventually the cardiologist came back and wanted to speak to me on my own.
“You’ll be pleased to know the tests show you are not having a heart attack right now,” he said.
“Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. There are lots of issues with your heart that we still can’t rule out.”
But the good news was he was letting me go home to rest before they did any more tests.
He had been so kind and I felt relieved.
I reasoned that they wouldn’t let me go if my case was that serious.
Before I left, he said, “It’s a huge pleasure to meet you. You’re such an inspiration and my wife loves you. She’s a carer for her mother and we both think you’re doing so much good by speaking out on things”.
I started to cry. “I’m not doing any good for anybody.”
I felt like I was failing on every front, and his kindness made me feel so guilty.
When we arrived at the hospital, we almost literally fell into A&E. ‘I think I’m going to have to lie down,’ I said, and collapsed on the floor.
“Look, Kate, you’re under incredible stress, and whatever is happening today is at the very least a warning. You have to take care of you,” he went on. “Are you taking time for yourself?”
I wanted to laugh out loud, but I didn’t because I knew he meant it in such a caring way.
Of course I know that looking after myself is the right thing to do, but how do you realistically do that when you are spinning so many plates?
My scare seems to have been a one-off issue, but doctors are now keeping an eye on it — it might have been stress-related angina.
Or it could also have been my body’s response to stress in general.
But it has forced me to make some changes.
I’ve allowed myself time to grieve for our old life. I’ve tried to get on top of our finances, and started slowly to put in place some rituals and techniques to help me achieve some mental space.
I’ve pushed Derek to see his friends, and made more time to see mine too.
I began to declutter the house, to gradually let go of the past while still holding on to things that are important now.
The happy ending I desperately wanted to bring you still eludes us.
But, ultimately, we still believe that Derek can improve and we are finding ways to exist as a family while the journey continues.
Every day it feels like we are making progress — entwined and bound by love.
- Extracted by Emily Fairbairn from The Strength Of Love, by Kate Garraway (Blink Publishing), out on Thursday.
Kate with Darcey and Billy after winning her NTA gong for a documentary aboutDerek’s health battleCredit: Kate Garraway
The Strength Of Love, by Kate Garraway (Blink Publishing), is out on Thursday