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April 24th 2020

Serious Injury

‘Losing a limb is devastating but you’re not alone and others can be your inspiration’

‘Losing a limb is devastating but you’re not alone and others can be your inspiration’

Gary Wilson describes the moment doctors in hospital told him his right leg would need amputating as ‘devastating’.

Gary Wilson describes the moment doctors in hospital told him his right leg would need amputating as ‘devastating’.

The 58-year-old father-of-four had faced up to bowel cancer and come through radiotherapy and chemotherapy before going into hospital for the removal of the tumour.

Days later, he faced yet more life-changing news.

During his recovery after operation, blood had stopped reaching his right foot and his lower limb had died. Doctors said amputating below the knee was the only option.

“It’s life-changing. Devastating actually,” he says, recalling the moment he was told of his fate.

“I’d had all my worry about my cancer and yet here I was soon after having my tumour removed facing life without my leg. You simply can’t prepare yourself, or your family, for that sudden life change.”

Mr Wilson then had to undergo a second amputation, this time above the knee, due to an infection. Eventually he returned home to begin what was a vastly changed life.

“When you come home from having an amputation you don’t know where to begin,” said Mr Wilson, who had the amputation in November 2016.

“For months I was just in my bedroom and hardly moved. You’re not prepared for your new life, and nor are your family and loved ones. You can easily become isolated and I certainly found those first few months particularly tough.

Gary Limbless Association

“I’d always been a busy and active person who’d worked all my life, and not being able to do that was tough to adapt to.

“I must admit, I thought my days of getting out and about and socialising were gone in the initial weeks and months after my amputation. You can lose a bit of hope and it’s not easy to stay positive.”

Before his amputation Mr Wilson and his wife of 20 years, Catherine, had enjoyed holidays in their touring caravan, walking many miles together along the East Yorkshire coast with their dogs, enjoying the great outdoors.

“You suddenly find that you can’t do the things you love, and that was hard,” he said.

“I loved being active and walking miles with Catherine and the dogs. You miss the simple things you take for granted.

“I’d always loved my work as well and throughout my working life I’ve driven HGVs and Fork-Lift trucks.

“That also had to come to an end due to other underlying health conditions and changes in the medication I now have to take. It’s amazing how many aspects of life are affected, and that can be very difficult to accept.”

Specialist amputee support groups key to more positive

Mr Wilson, of Hull, has shared his story to mark the national Limb Loss Awareness Month, which is running throughout April.

He admits that in the initial months after amputation he didn’t proactively seek out the help and support available in the community, and that it is only over the past 12 months, after joining two dedicated local groups, that he feels he has made progress both physically and mentally.

He says meeting fellow amputees has been key to that change.

He firstly joined ‘Keep Moving’ fitness classes at The University of Hull, a 12-week course which sees amputees complete an hour of exercises twice a week.

More recently he has attended the new ‘Support and Connect Hub’ drop-in sessions run by The Limbless Association in Hull – a charity committed to ensuring ‘No Amputee Need Cope Alone’

The people at both groups, he says, have had a hugely positive impact on his life.

“They have been really great for me. You get to meet so many people who have been going through similar experiences and it’s just really helpful to talk,” he said.

“The Keep Moving classes are only an hour long and we do exercises such as balance work, exercises to help getting off the floor if you fall and upper body strength, which I need as use a walking stick all the time.

“I thought there was little help out there for me, but after talking to others I realised I could also receive more physiotherapy support, which has really helped me progress.

“Just as important has been being able to chat to people over a coffee. That’s why the sessions with The Limbless Association have been so good. You meet people who are behind you in their rehabilitation, and people who are ahead of you also.

“We’ve even arranged to speak during the current coronavirus lockdown over video calls. We know how important it is to talk to one another, and how much better we feel after doing so.

“You can learn and take inspiration from others, and help people who you know are where you were some weeks or months earlier. There are people at these sessions that I take so much inspiration and hope from.

“I look up to them. Everyone helps one another.”

‘You have to keep pushing and challenging yourself’

Mr Wilson says adopting a positive mindset and ‘can do’ approach has helped him hugely – something again he says comes from sharing experiences with others.

“There was talk recently at the Limbless Association meeting of going on an activity break where we do kayaking and other things. I said I thought I couldn’t do it, but was told it was aimed for people who’d only just had their amputation, so I would be able,” he said.

“It’s taught me you have to keep pushing and challenging yourself. You have to stop telling yourself ‘I can’t’ and just see what you can achieve.

“I’m much more positive than I was 12 months ago and I come back from meeting others who are in a similar position to me in a much better frame of mind.”

Mr Wilson is currently being supported by Hudgell Solicitors as the care and treatment provided to him in hospital following his surgery to remove his tumour is investigated.

Solicitor Michelle Tebbutt is seeking to provide Mr Wilson with a more suitable prosthesis, as he has difficulties with the NHS one he currently uses. She has also arranged for experts to consider the suitability of his property given his physical health, as well as being independently medically assessed.

It is all part of legal support provided at no cost to Mr Wilson, as part of a no win no fee agreement.

“It’s difficult at home,” he said.

“Our house is quite cramped and the hall way is very narrow, too narrow for a wheelchair and the stairs can’t accommodate a stair lift. I have to go upstairs on my bottom at present which is difficult.

“I’m not somebody who wants my house to look like it’s a disabled person’s home with equipment all over, but I a mindful that in another 10 years or so I could be in need of a lot more help to live comfortably and independently, and that these changes may be something I need to accept.

“I had many concerns over my treatment in hospital and how I ended up in this situation so I am grateful to Hudgell Solicitors for agreeing to take on my case and investigate my treatment in hospital. I hope they can get me some answers to questions and concerns I’ve had since having my operation, and to why it ended in this way.”

Support continues despite UK being in lockdown

Mr Wilson has shared his story to mark the national Limb Loss Awareness Month, which is running throughout April.

It comes as The Limbless Association continues to offer vital support to people throughout the current Covid-19 lockdown and ensure ‘No Amputee Need Cope Alone’

The charity’s helpline can be called on 0800 644 0185 and people can email enquiries@limbless-association.org. Advisors are on hand to provide support and a range of advice, signposting and resources around limb loss and living life beyond.

The charity’s ‘Volunteer Visitors’ network of amputees who understand the challenges of limb loss also continue to provide support, via telephone rather than face to face visits, and can be contacted on 01245 216674.

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