Couple left partially paralysed say a note from a stranger changed their lives

What if a message from a stranger was enough to change the course of your life?

That’s exactly what happened to Katheryn Abbatuan, 30, and her partner, Robin Thelander, 35.

The couple were on holiday in Scandanavia in June 2019 when an older man in a cafe approached them and wrote a message on a napkin, holding his view of life.

The note read: ‘Time, it is both the most valued and most wasted entity. Time is the most equal luxury possessed by all because we all have the same 24 hours in a day.’

The couple thought of the message as just a funny holiday experience – but then their lives changed forever.

Just one month after this chance encounter, both Rob, an investment professional, and Katheryn, a digital marketing expert, were both left partially paralysed within weeks of each other.

Robin slipped and fell on his back, crushing his vertebra in seven places.

After experiencing severe back pain, Katheryn was then diagnosed with functional neurological disorder, which affects the workings of the nervous system and left her unable to walk, as Robin recovered.

‘I tried to shake it off and carry on, but the pain just got worse and worse,’ Katheryn said.

‘It was all down my lower left side, from my back to my left leg.

‘If I put any weight on my leg, it felt as though an electric shock was going through it. It was like really extreme pins and needles.

‘I was determined to try and live a normal life – even though I could barely walk – but one day I noticed my left leg had become red and swollen.

‘I had to take my laces out of my trainers, because my foot wouldn’t fit in my shoe – it looked like it had been inflated.

‘I had to go back to hospital. It got to the point where I couldn’t really walk.

‘It was like a living nightmare – just a waiting game to find out what was wrong with me.’

It was while Katheryn was trying to figure out the source of her pain that Robin had a freak accident while helping a friend move house, slipping and falling flat on his back while carrying large boxes.

Robin later found that he couldn’t get out of bed, and was rushed to hospital, where MRI scans revealed his spine had been crushed into seven pieces.

As he recovered, in Mid-September 2019, Katheryn was referred to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Holborn, London, at which point she couldn’t walk without crutches.

‘My left foot was at a 90 degree angle and skewered inwards,’ she remembers. ‘It looked like a dead fish.

‘I had no sensation in my left leg and doctors tried pricking me with a pin, but I still couldn’t feel a thing.’

After a series of brain scans and nerve conduction tests, Katheryn was finally diagnosed with FND, all as Robin was still unable to walk due to his injury.

In October, the pair were able to leave hospital and reunite – although both Robin and Katheryn remain unable to walk unaided.

Finally back together, the couple couldn’t help thinking back to the note a stranger, who called himself Oscar Fenton, had given them.

The challenges they faced and the joy of being together again made them realise how true Oscar’s words about time really were.

Oscar had written the note for the couple just a month or so before their respective paralysis, when they were killing time in Copenhagen after missing their plane home.

Katheryn and Robin had been relaxing in a cafe when they struck up conversation with an older man.

‘He told us he’d been travelling for business and he sounded like he had such an interesting life, so we invited him to sit with us and have a glass of wine or three,’ said Robin.

‘We were all a little bit tipsy and the conversation became quite intense. He told us his name was Oscar Fenston, he’d recently been divorced and regretted not having a happy marriage or children.

‘He started talking about the importance of time and how time is the most valued and most wasted entity.

‘He also said time is the most equal luxury possessed by all, because we all have the same 24 hours in a day.

‘We thought that was really poignant and asked him to write down what he’d said on a napkin.

‘Shortly after that he left. We never asked for his contact details and never saw him again – but we kept the napkin.’

After their experiences taught the couple the poignancy of Oscar’s words, Katheryn and Robin knew they had to honour him by giving his name to a watch brand they plan to launch together in September, entirely dedicated to the idea of recognising the significance of our time together every day of our lives.

Katheryn said: ‘One day we were reminiscing about Oscar’s inspiring words and it just made us think about how important time was – especially when, in life, you never know what’s around the corner.

‘Sitting in hospital, not knowing how long I’d be in there for, it just felt as though time was passing me by.

‘I realised how spot on Oscar had been about how precious time really is.

‘It seemed perfect that we should start a watch brand and name it after him.

‘I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. There was a reason why we met Oscar just before this all happened, a reason he wrote that message about time on that napkin and a reason why it inspired us to launch a watch brand.

‘I first had the idea during a physio session. I was thinking, “What symbolises the importance of time?’ Then it just hit me like a tonne of bricks – a watch!”‘

Katheryn wrote up a business plan for the watch brand, Robin secured the investment and designed pieces for the collection, and now they’re ready to launch, with a portion of the profits going to Calmzone and the Campaign Against Living Miserably.

Robin said: ‘We’ve been through so much and we’ve come out the other side.

‘We’ve both had to deal with the mental impact of these conditions, and we want to give something back to help others in a similar situation.’

The challenges they faced and the memories of that chance encounter not only sparked a business venture, but brought the couple closer – and made them realise how important it is to value every moment together.

‘It’s made my feelings for Robin so much stronger and, even more than before, it’s made me realise he’s the person I want to spend the rest of my life with,’ said Katheryn.

Robin added: ‘We’ve become so much more humble since everything happened.

‘It’s taught us not only to cherish every moment, but it’s shown us the importance of time and that there’s always a silver lining somewhere.

‘Our silver lining was Oscar Fenston. It’s so important that people find their own and remember that time is precious.

‘Time is one thing you can never get back.’

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