On 30th May, a determined group of individuals set off on a truly inspirational challenge to become the first amputees to conquer Mount Snowdon. The team, consisting of 18 amputees from around the UK, were led by Paul Clark, who lost his leg as a result of a bone infection following surgery in 2014. Accompanying him was Leigh Joy-Staines, Co-Founder of the voluntary charity STEEL BONES, which works to connect, support and inspire amputee families across the UK to overcome the trauma of amputation.
I was fortunate to interview both Paul and Leigh, prior to their challenge. Here is what they had to say…
1. Leigh, can you please tell Disability Horizons readers a little about yourself and your disability?
I was born with clubfoot (talipes) and had about 30 operations before the age of 5 to try to rectify them. The Doctors did the best they could at the time. I managed to get through school with just a few more operations, and lived a relatively ‘normal’ life. I was always in quite a lot of pain but this didn’t stop me, as I just loved playing sports and so I didn’t care about the pain.
I was bullied a lot but luckily had fantastic, grandparents, parents, cousins and friends who stuck by me and gave me the strength I needed inside to keep going. It impacted massively on my anxiety but I hung onto those people around me. Looking back, I was actually quite a popular kid. I just let the nasty name calling go over my head.
I left school early and started working immediately. I always worked hard and partied hard at weekends. But at the age of 23, after working a job with a long commute which involved a lot of walking, I couldn’t take the pain any longer. I then went to see my GP who referred me to an orthopaedic surgeon at Guys Hospital (London).
The surgeon seemed to think it would be a simple operation to put things right. Unfortunately, he hadn’t completed the proper pre-operative checks and didn’t have my notes in the operation. [As a result] he severed my last remaining artery and the nurses didn’t realise the foot’s blood supply was cut off until it was too late. All I remember is my girlfriend (now wife) turning up with my mates to take me home, and I was rushed into an ambulance.
The team at St Thomas’ Hospital were amazing. It became a second home for me since I was there for 5 months whilst they tried to save the leg, and then whilst I learnt to walk again. Since the amputation, I’ve had lots of problems with my stump (which I call JOYBOY) such as neuromas, spurs and infections. My other leg is also now disintegrating as it has taken a lot of pressure since the amputation. I’m now working with some excellent surgeons and physiotherapists to hopefully rebuild it, otherwise I will have to lose that leg too.
2. You are one of the founders of STEEL BONES. Why did you decide to establish the charity?
We had no proactive support at the time of amputation. My girlfriend (now wife) and I just tried to pretend everything was fine and ‘normal’. We didn’t take stock of what had actually happened. I’m still dealing with the trauma and am only just really accepting what happened – It was such a huge shock. When you still want to be the lad about town but your body fails, it breaks you. But, I’ve held on tightly to my family.
We phoned several amputee charities asking for support, but none came through. We felt so lonely and isolated, particularly once our children arrived. Our son Teddy was being asked lots of questions: ‘Why isn’t your daddy strong?’ and, ‘Why does he wear a boot?’
This really hit us hard as we didn’t know how to deal with the outside world, only our little unit. So, we decided to start meeting other amputee families.
It all started with a Facebook group and it’s gone from strength-to-strength.
We have met so many amazing people and it gives us great motivation to know that we are not alone. The charity focuses on the entire family, and not solely the amputee, because an amputation affects the entire family unit including friends too.
We provide support packs and create friendships with families to ensure they have the tools and advice they need to achieve their goals. We also run a weekly fitness club and an amputee football club with Cambridge United Trust and Cambridge FA. Furthermore, we are launching a series of children’s books based on amputee family stories. We also run a schools workshop programme with ‘If Not Me Inclusion Coaching’, which focuses on inclusive sports and raising awareness of amputees.
These projects are very close to our hearts as we know the impact they make. We hope to avoid what our son endured in his first couple years at school, and to ensure no amputee family feels isolated. We also have an events programme that all amputee families are welcome to join.
Our biggest event of the year takes place on 29th July 2018 in Cambridgeshire. To find out more join our Facebook group: STEEL BONES or sign up to our mailing list http://steelbone.co.uk
3. Can you tell us exactly what this particular challenge involves?
The challenge involves a group of amazing amputee families climbing
Mount Snowdon. We have been training for the past 6 months and have endured falls, knocks, sores, blisters, aches and pains. Despite this, the hugely inspirational group has kept on going. It is just so exciting to see them achieve this incredible goal.
STEEL BONES is entirely voluntary so the funds raised by this go directly to amputee families in the UK. It provides a lifeline by putting on more clubs, events and proactively supporting the amputee community.
4. Paul Clark, you’re heading the challenge to climb Mount Snowdon in May. How and why did you first become involved with STEEL BONES?
After my amputation on 30th May 2016, it was a very hard and lonely time for myself and my family. We didn’t know who to turn to for help and support and we felt very isolated. We didn’t know what support we could get or where to even start looking. We found there to be a big lack of understanding in the public and government as to what amputation means for an individual and their family.
We came across the STEEL BONES Facebook group and realised they were local, and had been in a very similar situation to us when Leigh lost his leg. They were offering free help and support to amputees and their families, so we contacted them for some advice.
Their support from day one was fantastic. Not only did they give us advice on who to contact regarding different matters, they also helped from with forms, letters and so on until we were sorted. Their support didn’t stop after this – they continue to support myself and my family with information and advice. They have also introduced us to many new friends in the same situation. It has become one big happy amputee family!
5. Where did the idea come from?
My wife and I have always wanted to climb Mount Snowdon, so we said let’s still do it and raise money for STEEL BONES to thank them. The money raised will allow them to continue supporting other amputees and their families throughout the UK.
6. What are you hoping to achieve as a result of the challenge you have set for yourselves?
Not only is this a personal goal of ours, and a massive challenge, we also hope to promote amputee awareness throughout the UK. We want people to be aware that just because I have lost a limb, it doesn’t make me any different, and I can still overcome challenges like anyone else.
I have managed to get a great team to join me on this amazing adventure, and it’s great that I have managed to pull together a group of amputees from around the UK. Not only will this bond us as a group, it will challenge us all and show that amputees can do anything, whilst also raising a fantastic amount of money for STEEL BONES.
Show your support for the team and make a donation by clicking here.