Everyday miracles…

06 Sep
Everyday miracles…

There are few things I dislike more than having to go to the doctor.
It’s not that I’m squeamish, I just don’t like being dependant on someone else’s opinion for my recovery, I’d rather just munch on a handful of painkiller, decongestant, or anti-inflammatory tablets and get on with my life.

However, there are some things on which you just have to get an expert opinion. In my case that has meant being signed off work with what I was initially told was carpal tunnel syndrome, but which the various medical practitioners involved now no longer seem able to agree on and may in fact be tendinitis.
I have a consultant appointment next week to be referred for either surgery or nerve conduction tests, neither of which sound like a fun day out.

I know several people who have had the procedure to alleviate CTS and have heard mixed reports as to its efficacy, but this relatively simple operation pales into insignificance when compared to some of the extraordinary results that can be achieved by modern surgical methods.
Two examples in particular have brought home to me just how fortunate we are to live in a time when medical science can be used to change people’s lives in ways that couldn’t have been imagined only a generation ago;

A little over a year ago I heard from good friend of mine up in Sussex who had some shocking news.
Due to continuing health problems (contracting multiple chest infections in a short space of time had left him seriously ill and dangerously short of breath) he had been told that he needed a double lung transplant.
Now, given the nature of such an operation the immediate concern was obviously the availability of suitable donor organs, so the only option was for my old friend to sit tight and see if the (necessarily tragic) generosity and thoughtfulness of a complete stranger would come in time to save his life.

As fate would have it, it seemed as if he’d barely had time to get on the donor register list before he received a phone call and made his way to Harefield Hospital in London where he was tissue typed and tested, before being informed that he’d been accepted as a recipient and booked in for surgery.

So on August 12th last year he had a double lung transplant.

Ten days later his wife was posting pictures of him sitting in the sunshine on a bench in the hospital grounds, and not too many days after that it was photos of him toasting us with a pint of his favourite ale in the beer garden of my old local.

And all the available evidence suggests that, a year on, he’s a new man, enjoying a new lease of life and a new perspective.

Let’s just go through that again slowly shall we?
Doctors open up your torso.
They remove both your malfunctioning lungs.
They fit a couple of nice healthy replacements.
They,…what, staple you up or something?
And off you go, the human equivalent of a Formula One car zooming into its garage bay for a three second pit-stop, then pausing only to warm up its tyres, heading straight for the checkered flag and the champagne.

Even now I have trouble getting my head round the amazing speed at which the human body can recover from what must be a deeply traumatic experience, not to mention the astonishing skill and dedication of the men and women who provide such an invaluable life-changing service to those of us who have come dangerously close to not finishing our race at all.

A big part of these of medical miracles is undoubtedly the human element, and not just on the part of those who perform the operations either. The support of loved ones, the will to survive and the strength and resolve of the patients themselves is also vital.
I know that my friend took great comfort from the good wishes and messages of support he received from far and wide via a Facebook group, set up to keep us informed about his life-saving transplant by his doting wife, the one person who provided constant love and encouragement through the whole daunting process.

But it’s the courage, determination and extraordinary strength of character, not to mention the irrepressible sense of humour, that make the subject of my second example of surgical wizardry so inspiring.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I’d recently met my sister’s new partner, an incredibly personable, athletic, funny and all-round nice guy called Oly.
Well, nice guy that he most definitely is, Oly is, um, shall I put this?…not all there.

When I asked him if he would mind sharing his story (as I happen to think it’s a truly inspirational tale) I had no idea that he would provide such a thoughtful and poignant piece of writing. I was expecting a timeline of surgical procedures and personal achievements that I could work into a……well, into what he has written.

So I’ll let Oly himself explain;

“I was born in 1984 with congenital limb deformities. 
In layman’s terms this meant I was born without both fibulas (calf bones) and missing digits on both hands. 
I also have one leg a few inches longer than the other, because one thighbone is longer than the other. (in case you’re wondering, it’s my left that’s longer). 
I’m told that my granddad took one look at me and said to my mother; “He’s still beautiful though”. 

I spent the next 20 months or so as any other ‘normal’ baby.
You know the sort of thing, crying, pooping, eating. All the fun stuff.
In addition to this I had cosmetic surgery on both hands for functional reasons. I still managed to walk with specially adapted shoes and calipers though, and achieved this by 18 months old.
The next event of major significance was in December 1985, when I moved with my family from Bristol in Somerset to Crowborough, in East Sussex.
Part of this move found me being referred to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where a top peadiatric orthopeadic surgeon recommended that the only real option was an amputation. 
The only alternative would have been me spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair. 

The decision was made to amputate.
This must have been one of the most difficult decisions for my parents to make. Both being only 23 years old at the time, I don’t know how they did it. 
My younger sister was only 3 months old when they had to make this life-changing choice on my behalf, but I have never held it against them and never will. 

I had a double below knee symes amputation at the age of 2 and a half. This means they amputated through my ankles and wrapped the padding of my feet around the end of the bone. This gives extra padding to the end of the bone. 
From talking to other amputees throughout my life I’m told this is a good thing to have.
After speaking to my mother recently she tells me I was up and walking around on my prostheses within 6 weeks of amputation.
I never have liked sitting still. 
I even have a video of me in the hospital kicking a ball, only five days after having the limbs fitted.
My sister, who was 9 months old by then, was learning to walk at the same time. She seemed confused that she didn’t have to put on a pair of legs to stand up and walk.”

I don’t believe I have sufficient powers of imagination to even begin to contemplate what that must have been like for a young boy growing up, and yet the man I have now had the pleasure of meeting on more than one occasion is way more athletic and sporty than I’ve ever been or will ever be, incredibly self-assured and confident, and has the barely suppressed energy and mischievous grin of a teenager.
But then he’s got a lot to be grateful for:

“I suppose the next significant part of my life would be playgroup.  Here I met Tim and Martin who would turn out to be my best friends and still are to this day. 
From memory my favourite time at playgroup involved ‘Bikes’. 
If you’ve ever been to watch banger racing, imagine that but with 20 or so 2 year old boys on trikes in a church hall. 
There was never any question of my ability to scoot round on a trike, I just did it. In fact from an early age I don’t ever remember my legs causing me any problems, “disabling” me, or preventing me from doing anything that I’ve ever wanted to do.
The owner of my local gym recently said to me “You’re the most least disabled person I know” Now he’s not one for words but I kind of got the idea of what he was trying to say.”

There followed an obsession with basketball, which consumed his life to the point that he’d sometimes be found clutching his basketball as he slept, and joining the cub scouts, where his pack leader encouraged the other boys to treat him no differently than anyone else, further bolstering his confidence.

I asked Oly for anything that could be considered a particular achievement for someone with his start in life and the list he provided just made me feel old and unfit;

“Dale asked me to provide a list of my “achievements” as he put it. To me, they are just my life.
(These are only the ones I remember, there’s probably a lot more)

Learned to walk. Twice.
Play football.
Swimming. (Representing England internationally)
Ice/roller skating.
Jet bikes/skis.
Piloted a glider.
Go karting.
Rock climbing.
Most theme park rides (Even the ones where you dangle your legs)”

He is apparently too modest to mention that he works with disabled children at a local special school’s holiday club and also raises money for the extremely deserving Taylor Made Dreams charity.

It was only recently that I saw Oly last, when I went to meet up with him and my sister, on holiday with my niece and nephew in Dorset. He was proudly showing off his fancy new carbon-fibre prosthetics with the Superman artwork on them and clowning around in the swimming pool legless just like anyone else, and I’ll leave the last word to him;

“Whilst writing this I spoke to my mum a lot and she told me a story about something that happened at the local park when I was about 3 years old. 
Mum and my Nan took me to Wolfe Recreation Ground and like every other child I wanted to go on the slide. There were two slides, one small and one big. 
Guess which one I went for. 
Now my Nan was always worrying about me. She turned to my mum as soon as I started to climb the ladders to the big slide and said ‘You can’t let him climb them’.
My mums response was ‘I have to let him try’. 
My parents have always encouraged me to try anything and everything and not let my ‘disability’ stop me. Being raised this way has turned me into the person I am today, I never let anything stop me from doing things, yes there are certain things I have to do differently but I will always find a way to do the things I want to.  In my 30 years I’ve never come across anything that I haven’t been able to do. 

For those of you who say “I cant” when you come across something a little bit difficult, my response to you would be; If you want it badly enough you will find a way.

Go on give it a go, you wont know until you try.”

{If you would like to read the full text of Oly’s tale, as written by him,  – edited here to save space – please go the the Oly’s Story… tab at the top of the page. Also see the comments below for Simon’s full account of that transplant ordeal}


Posted by on September 6, 2014 in Blogging, Guest spots., Personal anecdote, Science


Tags: , , , , , , ,

4 responses to “Everyday miracles…

  1. Adam Pain

    September 6, 2014 at 22:33

    This is a brilliant post – thoughtful, funny and uplifting in equal measure. What an incredible couple of stories too – thoroughly enjoyed reading this from start to finish.

    • dalecooper57

      September 6, 2014 at 22:38

      Hi Adam. Thank you very much.
      Oly’s contribution made this post, I think. An excellent insight into the impact an alleged “disability” can totally fail to have on the life of a determined man such as himself.

  2. simonmansey

    September 6, 2014 at 23:44

    Hi, I’m Simon, I am the very fortunate recipient of a nice new shiny pair of lungs, for which I am eternally grateful to my donor and their very benevolent family.
    As mentioned the new lungs were slotted in without any bone cutting. The entry and exit surgery was more pioneering than cutting the chest open and breaking the sternum, this “old fashioned” procedure is called “Clam shell” as the chest is opened up just like a shell and the operation carried out with plenty of room.
    My surgeon, Mr Andre Simon, invented the brand new procedure of making incisions from under each armpit to an inch either side of the breast bone, keeping it perfectly intact, then removing the old lungs and feeding the new ones in, attaching the Trachea and other tubes, then re-inflating them in position. This is called Minimally Invasive Bi-Lateral Single Lung Transplant, (called “Single” because the two lungs were transplanted in a “single” operation) The incisions in my chest were sealed up using super glue, no staples or sutures or stitches! This method means that the recovery time is much shorter and caused very little pain, leaving very little scarring.
    I was in the hospital on the Sunday night at about Midnight, prepared for theatre and waited for the “ok” that the lungs were viable. At 7am I was taken to theatre and given General Anaesthetic.
    The next I knew was being quite thirsty in Intensive Treatment Unit and being watched over by my angel wife, Anne. She promised me that she would be there waiting, and she kept to that.
    Next day I was moved to a High Dependency ward. I gradually needed less and less Pain Management medicine (Morphine) and less nursing attention. I was eventually discharged 19 days after admission. I needed no further intervention from the nursing staff.
    I attend the clinic every three months now, where they X-Ray my chest, check my Lung Function and monitor my anti-rejection drugs and discuss my general well-being with a Registrar.
    One year in, I survived last winter without a single chest infection, and no sign of a cold or flu.
    My wife, Anne, and I are taking our first holiday for 7 years in a months time. Our life together was put on hold because I wasn’t able to do anything that required any exertion. We are able to do things now that I couldn’t dream of doing before. Save the NHS. Please become an organ donor if you aren’t already, thank you for reading this.

    • dalecooper57

      September 7, 2014 at 00:21

      Thank you Simon, that’s all fantastically good news. I’m sure I speak for anyone reading this when I say that I wish you and Anne all the best for the future and have a great holiday. I’m very grateful that you’re still with us and thanks again for such an incisive account of your treatment.


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