As part of our Rebuilding Lives series looking at the work of Preston’s Specialist Mobility Rehabilitation centre, Investigative Reporter AASMA DAY looks at phantom limb pain, and talks to Malcolm Charlton, who says he is fitter now than he was before losing his leg.
“People associate A&E with saving lives – and rightly so – but Preston’s limb centre also saves lives by giving people their lives back.”
These words from Malcolm Charlton, 53, sum up the huge difference the Specialist Mobility Rehabilitation Centre, on Watling Street Road, Preston, makes to the lives of people affected with limb and mobility issues.
Malcolm, who works for BAM Nuttall civil engineers across the North West, became involved in motorcycle racing and admits he “lives, sleeps and breathes” the hobby.
However, in 2003, he suffered major injuries after being involved in a horrific motorcycle smash at Oulton Park race track, when the motorbike he was riding had total brake failure on the Island bend, which is the fastest left-hander in the country.
Malcolm recalls: “I broke my leg in seven places and my ankle and my left rotator cuff and my right shoulder blade.
“I was rushed to theatre, where they put a metal plate in my leg.”
However, the procedure did not work well, and nine months later, Malcolm had to have surgery to remove the plate.
His leg never healed properly and steadily deteriorated, despite corrective surgery involving a bone graft from his hip and having artificial bone put into his leg.
Eventually, after 18 months in a wheelchair, Malcolm decided he wanted his life back and was recommended to go and see Dr Fergus Jepson, consultant in rehabilitation medicine at the Specialist Mobility Rehabilitation Centre in Preston.
Malcolm explains: “I just wanted my life back. I had put on three-and-a-half stones and I was like an old man sitting in a wheelchair with nowhere to go.
“Meeting Fergus was life-changing. That man changed my life completely, and he and all the staff at the centre gave me my life back.
“I told Fergus I wanted to get out of the wheelchair and get my life back and he helped make that happen.”
While the thought of having a leg amputated would devastate most people, Malcolm says all he felt was relief.
He says: “I woke up after the amputation without my leg, but I did not feel sad or shed a tear.
“For the first time in almost four years, I felt like I had a future and could plan ahead.
“All I could think about was walking again.”
Malcolm threw himself 100 per cent into his physiotherapy and rehabilitation and after receiving his prosthetic leg, he learned to walk again.
He was soon back to work and is now working full-time as a general foreman running sites.
Malcolm has a prosthetic leg called an elite blade which is his everyday leg, which allows him to walk and cycle, and he recently did the Manchester to Blackpool cycle ride.
He also has an XT blade which is specifically for running.
As he became fitter, Malcolm started getting involved in more physical activities, including swimming and can now swim a mile in 42 minutes.
He did his first triathlon last year and managed to leave nine people behind him, and he has signed up to take part in three triathlons in five months this year.
Malcolm says: “I am fitter now than I have ever been before.
“I raced motorbikes all my life, but I am fitter since my amputation.
“When you are in a wheelchair and feel you have no future, it completely changes your mindset.
“The limb centre at Preston has given me everything back.
“I cannot emphasise how much the centre has helped me, physically and emotionally.
“It is a phenomenal place, and everyone there is so dedicated and go out of their way to help you.”
Malcolm got his driving licence back, goes cycling regularly and has just got his motorcycling licence back and is looking forward to getting back on a motorbike.
After his amputation, Malcolm suffered terrible phantom limb pains.
He explains: “I had horrendous stabbing and shooting pains where my leg should have been.
“The pain was so severe it brought tears to your eyes.
“It was like an electric shock to the nerves.
“It was basically my brain sending a signal down to my leg telling it to move. But because my leg wasn’t there, the signal would repeatedly be sent down and it resulted in excruciating pain.
“It was so bad, it would wake me up during the night.
“I would get it about 30 or 40 times a day and it would make me jump.”
When Malcolm mentioned his phantom limb pains to Fergus, he was referred to Candy Bamford, specialist counsellor at the centre, for hypnosis. Miraculously, after only a few hypnosis sessions, Malcolm was free of his pains.
He says: “I now have no pains whatsoever and I am not on any medication.
“Hypnosis does not work for everyone, but it has definitely worked for me.
“Candy is very good at what she does, and she used a combination of hypnosis and exercises for me.
“I class myself as very lucky as I have gained everything back in my life and it is all down to the people at this centre.
“I will doing my three triathlons in April, May and September and will do them to raise funds for the centre so I can give something back to this amazing place.”