After losing a limb: find something that keeps you fit and interested
Real Stories Though technology is transforming life after limb loss, communication and motivation are still vital in managing your situation, says the vice-president of the Limbless Association.
David Rose lost his right leg as a result of a road accident when he was 23. Now 61 and vice-president of the Limbless Association (LA), he’s seen massive changes in how limb loss is treated. With diabetes-related amputations (usually toes, feet and below-the-knee) on the rise in the UK, these transformations are key to living life successfully after limb loss.
"Diabetes-related lower limb amputations are increasing in the UK."
“Losing a limb is a bereavement and you go through a huge range of emotions which need to be managed, on top of the physical challenges,” says Rose. “I was lucky to have a job kept open for me, a girlfriend who stood by me and became my wife, but there were no charities or other support mechanisms then – either you were able to deal with it mentally on your own or you weren’t.”
As a young man whose love of outdoor sports was radically affected by the amputation, Rose determined to be “an agent for change”, working with like-minded people to promote contact with government and the NHS to improve all aspects of life for amputees.
Being proud to have a prosthetic
“In the early 80s, we were given the same kind of crude artificial legs as World War 2 air crew and soldiers – heavy, ugly, metal devices held on with belts and straps. They were useless compared with what’s available now,” he says. “I used to cover up my leg, but now you can be ‘proud’ to have a prosthetic – they are lighter, stronger, just so much better. There’s been a vast change in lower limb technology.”
Nowadays, NHS and private providers will build modular legs tailored to each person’s height/weight, activity level and needs, using the best components, wherever they come from. Rose himself has had English and German knees, and currently has a carbon ‘blade’ ankle from Iceland.
A keen swimmer and biker – more suitable sports than the walking, climbing or running he used to do – he has recently invested in a pedal-assist bike which gets him up the trickier hills and makes him feel “20 years younger!”
Patient/professional communication is essential
But no matter how great the technology, therapists and prosthetics fitters need good communication in order to achieve the best outcomes, says Rose.
“I’ve seen patients in a depressed state just sitting there, not engaging, not explaining what’s working or not for them. Not everyone’s used to talking openly with medical professionals, but you have to get that confidence, or take someone with you to help.”
Another essential element to a successful life after limb loss is motivation, he stresses.
“Find something that keeps you fit and interested – it’s impossible to describe how important that is.”