In November 2013 I was the worst pub landlord ever - I drank more pints than I served - and was also a stay-at-home dad to my little boy Sam, the only job I’ve ever loved. Mid-way through the month I caught a cold, or man flu as I deemed it. I moaned continuously of my plight for 10 days or so until one night I woke to go to the loo and there was blood in my urine. Just 24 hours later, I was on life support with a 3% chance of survival.
I had, for reasons still unknown, contracted a serious Strep A infection. Even now we are completely in the dark as to why I reacted the way I did. All of us carry Strep A in our throats but there are no clear reasons as to why few, like me, react so severely.
I awoke after four days, having beaten toxic shock syndrome, septicaemia, necrotising fasciitis and some seriously bad odds. My family and I were told that I was to be moved to another hospital to continue my care. Fast forward seven months, and I had lost my left arm above the elbow, my right arm above the elbow and both legs above the knee. I had my entire left shoulder fused into my right arm to save it from amputation. I had lost most of the skin and tissue around my jaw so I had my right shoulder fused onto my face. I had 36 skin grafts from my upper body placed over my remaining stumps and a host of other procedures. I was told one has better odds of winning the Euromillions than contracting and surviving a rare case of Strep A with the level of amputation I underwent.
My recovery process began in Salisbury. After four months or so I began to have regular physiotherapy sessions, where we concentrated on core and strength building. I remember I used to go to the physio gym and I would try and get myself up from lying to sitting - that took three months.
When I lost my right arm in July 2014, we knew that the rehabilitation path would be a lot tougher. I started in Roehampton, a rehab centre for amputees in London, in October that year, where I began how to learn to use arm prostheses as well as learning to walk on little training legs called ‘rockers’. I was there for seven weeks as I progressed very quickly and seemed to adapt relatively well to my new toys!
Sadly, the knee joints I require were no longer available on the NHS, so we realised we would have to go about trying to raise the money ourselves. The Alex Lewis Trust was born primarily to kit me out with the prosthetics I required to live as near normal a life as before.
The real process of rehabilitation and recovery, however, was always going to be about adapting to my home, my new life as a quadruple amputee and how my son would react to all the new arms and the rockers as well as how my labrador Holly (after Holly Willoughby, I’m a huge fan!) would cope. It was physically and mentally tough to begin with but with the help of my best friend Chris, we would train/practice/alter/break/fix and repeat for days on end. I wanted to be as strong a user as possible.
The true strength of my recovery, though, came from within my house. Sam and my fiancé Lucy are the reasons I push myself. I want my son to see that I have not let disability get in the way of achievement. Whether that’s just getting up in the morning because you ache like hell or whether it’s help set up a wheelchair manufacturing plant in Ethiopia. With the right mind set and seriously amazing people around you, anything is possible.
Even though I am literally half the man I used to be, I look back at what I and my family went through with a bizarre fondness. I was able to play the leading role in a drama involving hundreds of people - people who invested their time, emotions and surgical talent in giving me the best chance of going on to lead a new and exciting life.
I left hospital barely able to move, with no prosthetics and unable to use a wheelchair. Since then I’ve gone on to kayak through Namibia, and around the southern tip of Greenland. I now run my own interior design company. I work with Karen Betts, one of the world’s leading semi-permanent make-up artists, promoting the art of medical tattooing, and I speak at schools, colleges and corporate events on living a new life as a quadruple amputee. I also work with various universities on anything from prosthetic development to emerging assistive devices. Even a solar-assisted battery powered, four-wheeled hand cycle that I will endeavour to cycle up Ethiopia’s highest mountain!
More importantly I realised that I hadn’t been the partner to my wife Lucy and the father to Sam that I should have been. A very famous person sent me an email early on in my recovery saying that I should read Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and that the book would resonate with me. I duly read the book during various hospital visits and in the book is a quote saying “once you work out the why, you will endure any how”. I quickly realised that my ‘why’ was Lucy and Sam, and that the ‘how’ was quadruple amputation. I now live an extraordinary life surrounded and supported by amazing people. I’ve been given a second chance, not many people have that opportunity.
You could say it’s one that I’ve grabbed with both hooks.
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