Amputee Corner - Cape Town Woman turns Motorcycle Accident Into Motivation
A middle-aged woman from Pinelands in Cape Town, who spoiled herself with a 650 BMW motorcycle for her 50th birthday, enjoyed the pleasure of her new gift for only two weeks before she found herself in hospital, facing a new life as an amputee.
Carol Millar joined her husband - a keen motorcyclist with an even bigger model on the road - and was out riding her new toy, when a young driver skipped a stop sign, resulting in a collision that severed Carol’s right leg. She recalls being in hospital for six weeks. “Everything seemed so surreal and I think I had a bit of euphoria; reality only kicked in about eight months later when I was home alone. The flowers, the visitors and the food had all dried up, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by the fact that my leg was not going to come back and that this was the new me. It was quite a daunting thought having to venture out with this leg, with this metal pole under you that doesn’t do what you want it to do.”
Carol is very adventurous and used to be a passionate Argus cyclist, a modern contemporary dancer, and she loved jogging. “I was a busy mother of three children, including a 13-year-old daughter, and had a two-year-old grandchild. I worked in marketing and sales for my husband’s printing business, for 20 years, and was constantly on the road - I needed both my legs!”
Despite the shock and tragedy, the next four years of Carol’s world revolved around going to the prosthetist and researching amputation. She underwent numerous surgeries for all the problems she encountered. “I had six operations on my leg. My biggest issue was that I had a very short stump as a result of the injury, which made wearing a fitting – a silicone sleeve and a socket – difficult. It was extremely uncomfortable. If my weight fluctuated, it would either be too tight or would fall off; I had skin problems, which resulted in pain and infection, and I was hospitalised on a regular basis. Frequently, I’d fall apart about my life being over, but I allowed myself to mourn and then somehow found the strength to carry on.”
While researching amputation, Carol read on the Internet about Osseointegration - a direct structural and functional connection between living bone and the surface of a load-carrying implant. She approached Dr Keith Hosking, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town, about having the procedure. “He did the surgery in November 2012, and effectively gave me back my life.”
Carol had no ability to wear a prosthetic as her stump was so high up on her thigh. She also had multiple “normal“ amputee issues: the end of a stump tends to abrade and as a result, she had socket and serious skin problems. “Dr. Hosking gave me a prosthetic titanium bone which incorporated my hip and my femur in order to make the stump functionally longer for better mobility. He transplanted soft tissue from my other leg that integrated onto the titanium implant (osseointegration), forming a tight seal between the prosthetic and the outside world, so the end of the prosthesis sticks out through the skin. I just got a little R-shaped pin, to click my leg on and off. It’s so simple and absolutely phenomenal!”
Having her leg now attached to her body has completely changed Carol’s life. “I’m finally back at work. I’ve joined disabled golf, however, I haven’t played much lately. I swim every morning and I can even walk on the treadmill at the gym, which I couldn’t do before. The Osseointegration really transformed my world and is, no doubt, the future for amputees!”
Despite the motorcycle accident, Carol says she is not frightened of motorcycles, but it does make her a bit uneasy. “I have got on with my husband on his motorbike, but it’s a bit too close for comfort. I don’t have the desire to get on a motorbike again and I have seen how recklessly people drive. Since my accident I have met many amputees, and a lot of them have been in motor vehicle accidents, so I cannot say its only bikers that loose limbs. I was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time. I don’t blame the bike. I’m mad with myself that I decided to get a bike when I was turning 50! As they say when you’re on the motorbike, you are the airbag.”
The biggest adaptation for Carol was not being able to do what she loves most. “It’s not the fancy things in life I miss, but the simple things, like walking on the beach and walking my dog. I cannot do these things anymore, because the prosthetic legs don’t like walking in sand and if you’ve got crutches, they sink in the sand. So that for me was quite hard! Those were my favourite pastimes, which I cannot do anymore.”
This strong woman has a very positive outlook on life and says it’s important to embrace one’s leg. “Life doesn’t end when you lose a limb, in fact it’s the beginning of other things. Some doors close and others open - through my experience of losing my leg, I’ve met incredible people. There are more important things in life than what we keep searching for. When one is faced with a bit of adversity like this, it just opens your eyes to realise that life is precious.“
Carol now runs an amputee support group at the Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital, offering much-needed support and encouragement to those who have been through similar traumas. “After my injury I found attending a support group extremely beneficial, as I felt terribly alone,” she explains. “I’d never met an amputee and had no idea what to expect or how to deal with socket sores or phantom pain. The support and encouragement I received was invaluable during those dark days and when it was disbanded, I decided to pick up the reins and carry on.”
The support group meets on the first Tuesday of each month.