Given 5 years to live, woman sets out to visit 50 countries before age of 50

Fourteen years after she was given five years to live after being diagnosed with a mysterious neurodegenerative disease, Melanie Ng has Leanne Kabat's inspirational story of heartbreak and self-discovery.

By Melanie Ng

At the age of 35, Leanne Kabat led a typical life. She worked, was married with two young children and was pregnant with a third. Originally from the Toronto area, her family made the move to Seattle for her husband’s work. It was during one night at home in March 2006 when everything would change — a night she would eventually refer to as “the crash.”

With her husband away on a business trip, a then five-months pregnant Leanne put her two and four-year-old to bed. In the middle of the night, she got up to go to the washroom.

“Everything just went black and I fell. I was on the baby because I fell forward and I could see the clock ticking,” Leanne recalls. She lay paralyzed and frightened on the ground for five hours before finally being able to move.

The next eight months would be filled with test after test, with doctors trying to figure out what caused her brain and body to crash. From a possible brain tumour, to multiple sclerosis, doctors explored a broad spectrum of possibilities.

During one appointment, she sat in front of a panel of specialists with her scans on display. At the end if it, doctors presented her with a laundry list of how her body was shutting down, and the degeneration it was enduring. Leanne was told, “we don’t know what you have, but we know it’s going to kill you.”

It was then that she was given an estimated five years to live.

Leanne’s world for the next three years was a dark one.

“l was not the mother I wanted to be. I was so consumed with how sad I was and how much I was going to miss of their lives, that I wasn’t even enjoying them then.”

– Leanne


It was a comment made out of love that Leanne says turned things around — her mother-in-law telling her she would help raise her kids once she was gone. In that moment, Leanne knew something had to change and that she wanted to make the most of what life she had left. She threw out the pills, syringes, everything the doctors had given her. She says she began to listen to her body, slept when she was exhausted, ate the best foods she could, and tried her best to be present.

She says the number five haunted her — five years to live.

On a mission to redefine that number, Leanne set a goal of visiting 50 countries before reaching the age of 50. It wasn’t easy (or cheap) to do, but the family set off on a journey. They stayed in apartments while abroad, shopped at local markets and immersed themselves in other cultures.

A 49-year-old Leanne and her family returned home from country number 49 in February 2020 — fourteen years after her diagnosis.

Personally, she says was fulfilled, but what about others? From writing two books, to leading conferences about finding one’s happiness, Leanne has made it her personal mission to help others.

Unfortunately, Leanne is not in the clear when it comes to her delicate condition. She continues to experience symptoms — twitches, sudden exhaustion, visions that play like movies in her mind. With no clear diagnosis, she continues to check in with specialists and has just completed an experimental protocol with injections. In the meantime, Leanne says she will continue to live her life while trying to inspire others.

She already has her sights set on country number 50.

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