AT the age of four Marie Ratcliffe used to get up at dawn to play the piano her aunty had bought her for £7. It was her dream to one day become a concert pianist.
Marie’s family could not afford lessons until she was 11, but then she flew through her grades and won a place at Blackburn School of Music. The Royal Northern College of Music and a degree beckoned.
But her dreams were shattered one freezing February, a date she’ll never forget – Friday 13, 1978. She was just 19.
She was involved in an horrific car crash in Blackburn whilst on her way to give evidence in a court case of a woman she hardly knew. The car was driven by her solicitor who hit a patch of black ice and collided with a lamp post. Marie’s legs were shattered and she was trapped under the bonnet of the car for two hours.
“The fire service was on strike, but they still came out to help me,” says the mother of two sons from Chorley. “When I saw my legs they were completely smashed, there were bones sticking out and I was in the most horrific pain. They couldn’t give me enough gas and air or pain-killing injections fast enough. My consultant told me afterwards that my injuries were so bad, he didn’t know where to start.”
Marie endured 13 operations and her legs were pinned from hip to ankle. She was in traction for six months and in hospital for 10. Even now she walks with a limp. Her hopes of ever becoming a concert pianist were gone forever.
When she was finally released, she started to walk with the aid of crutches. But on a visit to the swimming baths she fell in a cubicle and snapped her femur. A further operation to take bone from her hips to graft onto her legs followed.
“I was in a wheelchair for months and in constant pain. But I just got on with it. My mum and husband Dave put together their money to buy me a piano. I was so happy. It’s all I could ever have wished for.
“I started playing in churches and at elderly people’s homes. It was my way of getting through it all, coping with the pain and making people happy at the same time.”
But her ordeal was nowhere near over, for three years ago Marie was diagnosed with a grade three agressive cancerous tumour in her breast. Luckily she didn’t need a mastectomy as the cancer hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes – “It was a small mercy. My body is full of scars” – but she needed chemotherapy treatment. The final straw was last November when she was taking her dog for a walk and tripped on ice breaking her tibia once again.
“So much has happened to me that I just dust myself off and get on with it. You can’t get resentful. My music has always carried me through. I love the fact that I can touch people’s hearts through my music. Now I have the opportunity to give something back with three recitals I have organised for Cancer Research.
“It makes all the suffering worth while knowing that I can raise some funds for a good cause and entertain people at the same time.”
Marie is taking her music to a wider audience with three recitals: Clitheroe United Reformed Church on June 21, where tickets are available on the door; St George’s Church, Chorley, on July 11 (tickets available at Chorley Health Food Store); and Kendal Parish Church on July 5. Tickets cost £8.50. Call 07896069805.