Former Sheffield United favourite Chris Kamara reveals cure hopes after opening up on apraxia battle
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Kamara left his job at Sky at the end of last season after 24 years of service, after revealing he had developed apraxia alongside an existing thyroid issue - which he has said has left him feeling like "someone else has taken over his voicebox".
Kamara played for United at the back end of a career that also included spells at Portsmouth, Leeds and Bradford City, before becoming a popular pundit after making the transition to in front of the cameras.
The 64-year-old underwent brain scans to check for dementia and Parkinson's after suffering from what he has previously described as "brain fog". But a doctor instead diagnosed apraxia and Kamara bravely opened up on his experience on the popular Diary of a CEO podcast, hosted by Dragons' Den star Steven Bartlett.
‘Now, I hear someone else’
"During the first lockdown I did loads of shows from home but all of a sudden I started not to feel well," Kamara revealed.
"I shrugged it off and took tablets but it wasn't going away. I ignored it, which is the worst thing you can do. I wasn't speaking as much at home and I was trying to keep things basic on Sky, because some of the words were coming out wrong.
"It was 20 months before I got diagnosed with an underactive thyroid.
"I got that stable but the voice condition was the same. My doctor sent me for a brain scan and the specialist said the MRI scan was fine, so it had to be something else. I was sent to a doctor in Leeds and after saying hello, without having a conversation with him, he said I had apraxia of speech.
"He could tell straightaway.
"It feels like someone has taken over my voicebox. The voice that used to come out, came out at 300mph. Motormouth, talking and not even waiting for a breath and going and going. Now when I hear myself, it's someone else. It's really strange.
"Some days, the message from the brain to the mouth is really slow and some days the words come out different to what you're trying to say. That's been hard to accept and still is.
"I was going to quit everything. Literally everything, at the end of last season. Quit Sky and BBC and ITV and channels four and five. It was the right time to leave Sky but all the other channels said: 'No, you're Kammy. It doesn't matter.' And I'm now doubly busy than I was before."
Back to Sheffield
A therapist previously urged Kamara to reveal his diagnosis, after some viewers began to speculate that he had suffered a stroke or was even drunk on air. He went public on GMB after a conversation with his good friend Ben Shephard and the same day, received a call from someone he knew saying he could help cure him.
"He said: 'I want you to meet Professor Nicholson at Sheffield University'," Kamara remembered, "and they said that I needed to kickstart my cerebellum, in the back of the brain. It had shut down so we needed to get the jump leads out and start it again.
"There are various ways to do it and I said I'd do absolutely anything to get it going. I have microcurrents going through my body for seven hours a day and it's worked. I wouldn't say I'm more than 60 per cent the old me but before, I was 20. So I've gone up.
"I see a therapist to help with my speech and anxiety. Working for Sky became very difficult. My heart would beat like mad before they came to me, the anxiety was terrible because I felt like I wasn't the old me.
"I've been introduced to the best neurologist in America and he's said because I have good days, there's no reason I can't be cured. so I've sent a load of blood tests over and I'm waiting for the results."
‘I feel like a fraud’
Kamara received an outpouring of support earlier this week when a teaser for the podcast saw him reveal he feels a "fraud in terms of broadcasting" because he doesn't "bring to the table what I used to."
"So that's hard," he admitted. "I feel I'm doing these programmes and they're not getting the best of me, they're tolerating me. That's how it feels.
"The tribute Sky gave me [after his departure] is reserved for people who pass away. I've had it while I'm still alive. Maybe I should have bowed out then, and taken the accolades and said thank you. Am I tarnishing what I had?"
‘Am I going to be able to talk today?
Kamara, who also spoke emotionally about his relationship with his father and the racism he has suffered in his career on the podcast, admits the disorder "consumes his mind every day".
"Every day, I wake up and the first thing I think is: 'Am I going to be able to talk today?' I'll go in the bathroom mirror and say a few words and then go downstairs and talk to [wife] Ann and all of a sudden, the pathway is restricted.
"And I'll think: 'Oh god, not again. Not today'. That's been hard to get my head around.
"The thoughts are lightning-quick. They're fine, they're there. But I have days where there's nothing in the brain area. Before, I could normally go into a room, speak to everyone, have a laugh.
"Now that part of it is hard work and it feels a struggle. It doesn't feel natural. That's the worst thing.
"So I tend not to do it very often, unless I'm feeling good and can tell the voice is fluid. Then I'll go in a room and be myself again."