The Man Who Amputated My Leg Will Be a Dear Friend for Life

The man who sliced my leg off will be a dear friend for life.

His genius has allowed me to run marathons and climb mountains. His perseverance convinced me to have the limb amputated in the first place. And his one oversight, in the operating theatre, has gifted me the greatest pub story any guy could ever wish for.

When Dr. Anthony Lambert cut through my right leg and pulled the skin of my calf around to create a stump, he accidentally tampered with a treasured tattoo.

And it’s fitting that in this week of all weeks, as Liverpool FC gear up to play against Real Madrid in the Champions League final, that I should be sharing my story with you.

Because, in November 2010, when the bandages around my brand-new stump were pulled away four days after amputation, the nurse let out a small cry of amusement.

The doc had accidentally erased the word ‘Alone’.

At 21 years of age, I had one less leg than I was born with, stamped with an ominous motto: ‘You’ll Never Walk…’

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Two years earlier, in 2009, I lay blinking into the pitch black sky in Afghanistan. My whole body throbbed from the palms of my hands to the tips of my toes. I knew within seconds that an improvised explosive device had blown me backward through the air and that my body was trembling due to its force.

Moments later, my fellow Royal Marines were all around me, fumbling in the darkness as the adrenaline subsided and the pain began to take hold. I screamed at my mates. “Have I still got my arms and legs?” Silence. “Have I still got my fucking arms and legs?!”

They did their best to reassure me, but when I felt a sharp pain around my right leg, I knew that James Smith, the medic, was tightening a tourniquet to stop me bleeding out.

And I believed at that moment I was done for…

When I was little, I watched my mum fade away in a hospital bed.

She was battling leukemia. She had gone from being the heart and soul of our loving household to a shadow of her former self.

One of the last times I saw her precious smile was when she handed over a brand new Liverpool FC shirt to me as a 12th birthday present.

Not long after, my dad returned home from the hospital where she was being treated and told me that she had passed away.

In the years that followed, I resolved to do her proud and so I joined the Royal Marines aged 17.

I went to Iraq in 2007, as the conflict was winding down for the British and I didn’t see a single bullet fired in anger. Then, in 2008, they sent me to the very heart of the battle in Afghanistan – to FOB Inkerman near Sangin – where I dodged bullets daily.

When one of the Taliban’s traps sent me up into the sky in February 2009, they left me with 27 injuries. I lay in a coma for 10 days.

My right leg was seemingly the worst affected, and yet the doctors at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham had an idea to save the limb.

They fitted me with an Ilizarov cage and for fourteen months, I turned screws attached to its frame, which helped me painstakingly regrow the missing bone.

Eventually, I was able to walk again.

However, no one at Selly Oak had a solution to the real horror inflicted by the blast – the news that I had lost my testicles somewhere between being blown into the night sky and blinking out of a 10-day coma back on British soil.

So I could walk again, but I couldn’t run.

I could hobble to the shops for a paper, but it would hurt.

I would watch injured men I knew flourish and be envious of them; they could play football, they could ski and surf. And yet they were amputees…

As my limitations became more and more obvious, my envy of mates with no legs became so uncontrollable that I rang up Doc Lambert and we set a date for my amputation.

My dad was floored by the idea. He had watched me lie in a coma for 10 days. He had spoon-fed me when I was at my lowest ebb. He couldn’t understand why I would want to put the family through more torment.

But I knew that it was the only way I could move forward with my life. And so on November 25, 2010 – just shy of two years after I was blown up in Afghanistan – I checked into the Doc’s clinic in Plymouth and he cut my leg away.

It felt like a weight had been lifted, but it would take time for me to see the light.

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Two years had passed since my amputation, and it felt like life was beating me.

I was falling into depression because I had no order to my days.

I’d not worked a day since the blast tore through me. I had nothing to get up for in the morning, nothing like the order that three years in the Royal Marines had taught me.

Back then I was part of one of the world’s most elite fighting forces. In late 2012 I could barely get off the couch.

I was drinking; I was gambling, and I was just about to go under altogether when a chance encounter saved me.

I met Clive Cook from Liverpool FC’s academy at an event aimed at re-integrating injured servicemen and women into society.

He was a dedicated to running and he challenged me to come and join him on one of his many long runs.

It was the catalyst for me. I went out running with Clive, I went out by myself, I went out with my Labrador Oppo and we would race across Crosby Beach and feel the wind in our hair.

I started to turn a corner and began to run 10ks and half marathons. I learned that the record for a single-leg amputee over 10k was 37:53 and so I ran it in 37:17 in front of a crowd of hundreds in my hometown.

I scaled mountains in South America and across Europe, I learned to surf, ski and abseiled from the Shard in London.

I went to Prince Harry’s Invictus Games in 2014 and claimed two gold medals wearing the colors of Great Britain and then, months later, I drove my girlfriend to a fertility clinic in Liverpool.

She had undergone IVF treatment and we were there to welcome our daughter Alba into the world.

And when I heard my daughter cry for the first time, all the pain and the suffering in my life was washed away.

And then, this Sunday just gone, I ran the Liverpool Marathon with one leg and I scooped my Alba up into my arms and we crossed the finish line together.

What was that they said about ‘You’ll Never Walk’?

 

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Previously published on The Huffington Post

Photo Credit:  Getty Images

 

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