Some people lose a limb through accident or illness. But for others, having a prosthetic limb is all they have ever known.
As part of our series looking at the work of Preston’s specialist limb centre, Aasma Day talks to Judith Woods, who has been an amputee since shortly after birth.
Reflecting on her memories of her earliest prosthetic legs, Judith Woods smiles as she remembers how basic her first legs were.
“They used to have a carpenter based at the limb units in those days and they would make you your replacement feet out of wood,” she recalls. “You would be asked for your shoe size and they would make a wooden foot for you in that size.
“Things have moved on so much and the prosthetic limbs of today can do so much more in comparison.”
Judith, 40, who lives in Penwortham, near Preston, with husband Bill and two-year-old-son Milo, suffered from amniotic band syndrome when her mother was pregnant with her.
This is a congenital disorder caused by entrapment of foetal parts, usually a limb or fingers or toes, in fibrous amniotic bands while the baby is in the womb.
Judith explains: “When my mum gave birth to me, it was discovered that I had been tangled in these amniotic bands while in her womb.
“As a result, they had cut off the circulation of my lower right leg above the ankle.
“The amniotic bands also went around some of the toes of my left leg and around both my hands.
“The consequence of this was that I ended up having my right leg amputated through the knee.
“My foot had gangrene so they had to do the amputation straight.
“I had a few operations and, in the end, they had to go through the knee.
“I also lost part of some of my fingers. I don’t have nail ends on some of my fingers, but that doesn’t affect my mobility.”
Judith has been a patient at limb units for the last 40 years and has seen a lot of changes over this time.
She used to go to Withington Hospital in Manchester until the unit in Preston opened up in 1979.
Judith is now provided with her prosthetic leg by the Specialist Mobility Rehabilitation Centre on Watling Street Road in Preston.
Judith says: “I have seen seen so much transition and progress in the technology of prosthetic legs.
“In total constrast to the prosthetic legs crafted out of wood, the modern prosthetic legs are made from flexible material and have things like energy devices and you can even have toenails made in the mould.”
Since the age of 12, Judith has been fitted with a suction leg, which is a full length leg which goes all the way to her bottom.
Due to changes in her stump, she has recently been fitted with a new style of suction leg.
Judith says: “They make your prosthetic legs for you fitted to your individual needs.
“Having a prosthetic leg is like getting a pair of new shoes – you have to wear them in for a while before you get used to them.”
Despite having had a prosthetic leg all her life, Judith says she has never let it prevent her from doing anything she wants.
Judith, who works in the business operations offices at BAE Systems at Warton, says: “When I was younger, I would try everything and I would go swimming and ride a bike and go rollerbooting.
“I have not missed out on anything, but there are restrictions on some things you can do.
“But you just adapt and come up with a new way of doing things.
“The benefit of being an amputee from birth is that all I have ever really known is a false leg.
“I have not had to change my life because I have never had two legs.”
Judith says the support she has had from staff at the Specialist Mobility Centre in Preston has been exceptional.
She explains: “The centre is great because it does not have a ‘hospital’ feel to it and instead has a relaxed environment.
“It also has a play room for children, which is great when I go there with my son Milo as it keeps him happy.”
Judith is pregnant and is expecting her new baby in March. As a result of her changing weight, she has needed a new leg.
She says: “With pregnancy, the main challenge of a false leg is making sure your leg fits you when you put weight on.
“I have had to have a bigger leg made as when your leg doesn’t fit you properly, it affects your walking.
“When I am wearing trousers, people don’t even realise I have a false leg and those who know I have one often forget. Having a false leg is part of my life and I just get on with it.
“I do have a wheelchair, which I do use from time to time. But I try to wear my leg as much as possible.”