I Should Be Dead.

Rikke Schmidt Kjærgaard

To lie in a hospital bed, unable to speak or move. To understand what people say to you, and not be able to respond. Even to hear your family discussing your funeral, without being able to say a word.

Country of Origin: Denmark
Country of Residence: Denmark
Year of Birth: 1973
Name: Rikke Schmidt Kjærgaard

Kjaergaard, who is a scientist and mother of three, was struck by a sudden bacterial infection in 2013. Within hours she had suffered multiple organ collapse and briefly died before being revived and remaining in a coma. She was to spend the next weeks and months on the edge of existence with locked-in syndrome. Her brain still functioned, but the only signal of life she could send was through blinking her eyes.

Rikke has been on the cusp of life and death with locked-in syndrome—and survived, not only to tell her tale but with a scientific understanding which makes her story unique. Kjaergaard is based in Copenhagen but has lived in both the UK and in the USA and has written the book in English. "Statistically, I shouldn’t be able to write this book. I should be dead. Or at least scraping along, brain damaged and unable to take care of myself. Thinking back, it is difficult for me to understand that I’m still here. I know what it’s like to wake up from a long-term coma. I know the horror and pain from being paralyzed in a body only able to observe the world around you, not to participate. I know what it’s like to understand everything, when everybody thinks you know nothing. I know what it’s like to fight every single day just to be able to breathe. I was given a second chance in life. My book is my way of paying it forward, to give a voice to those who have none."

Now fully recovered—following a “slow” and “painful” process teaching herself to breathe, eat, talk and move again—her story is described as “a powerful insight into the nightmare as well as the science of locked-in syndrome, and an inspiration to never give up hope and cherish every little thing in life we take for granted”. Bestselling author Bill Bryson, who met Kjaergaard after her recovery and encouraged her to bring it to the attention of a publisher, contributes with a foreword to Kjaergaard's book.

Europe in Figures
Healthcare in Europe is provided through a wide range of different systems run at the national level. The systems are primarily publicly funded through taxation (universal health care). Most European countries (and all European Union countries) offer their citizens a European Health Insurance Card which, on a reciprocal basis, provides insurance for emergency medical treatment insurance when visiting other participating European countries. Germany, Sweden and France had the highest current healthcare expenditure relative to GDP among European countries.Relative to population size and in euro terms, current healthcare expenditure was highest among the EU Member States in Luxembourg (EUR 5.6 thousand per inhabitant), Sweden (EUR 5.0 thousand per inhabitant) and Denmark (EUR 4.9 thousand per inhabitant) in 2015; it is interesting to note that Luxembourg had the highest per capita ratio given that it recorded one of the lowest ratios of healthcare expenditure to GDP.

Voices of Europe

Rikke Schmidt Kjærgaard in Tisvildeleje, Denmark.
Copyright © Voices of Europe.

Rikke Schmidt Kjærgaard, PhD,
Co-founder and CEO of Graphicure, a start-up company developing software solutions that empower patients to better understand their disease and manage treatment. She is also a co-founder of the Danish Science Club, a mentorship network for students and young adults. She is the author of the memoir The Blink of an Eye - a celebration of love and family and every little thing that matters when life is in the balance, where she, as a scientist, is uniquely able to describe her physical and mental journey to recovery.