Prosthetics help give independence again

HELP From left, senior prosthetist Erica McCarthy, Paul Eyre and specialist nurse Alison Cole at St Mary's Community Health Campus. Picture: Allan Hutchings (131574-150)
HELP From left, senior prosthetist Erica McCarthy, Paul Eyre and specialist nurse Alison Cole at St Mary's Community Health Campus. Picture: Allan Hutchings (131574-150)
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Losing a limb is a traumatic ordeal. But tucked away inside St Mary’s Community Health Campus, in Milton Road, Milton, Portsmouth, is a centre that helps amputees work with prosthetic limbs.

The Disablement Centre is one of 32 in the country that offers patients replica limbs.

Each year 150 new patients come through the door, and there are about 1,400 people on the books.

One of those is Paul Eyre, of Woolmer Street, Emsworth.

The 52-year-old had his lower left leg amputated below the knee just under two years ago.

He was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at the age of 40.

Paul had his leg amputated in September 2011.

By Christmas the same year, Paul had managed to teach himself to walk again, and will always be grateful for the help he gets at the centre.

He says: ‘It’s a whole new process and you have to learn to walk again, which is strange.

‘You have to relearn balancing and working with the prosthetic leg.

‘I was trying to do the best I could do without my leg, but it’s a million times better with the prosthesis.’

Paul visits the centre, which is run by Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, twice a week and started playing sit-down volleyball for exercise.

‘I’m a big guy and I’ve always been into my sports,’ adds Paul, an ex-serviceman.

‘I used to play rugby and football, and so it was really frustrating that I couldn’t exercise like I used to.

‘My life changed completely when I lost my leg, and I had to get used to a lot of different things.

‘I cannot thank the centre enough for the support I’ve been given.’

Alison Cole is a clinical nurse specialist at the centre.

As a regional centre, the service takes on patients from Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey.

Alison says: ‘We see a wide-range of people who have lost limbs.

‘There are cases that are congenital, people who have lost a limb through trauma or an accident.

‘But the majority of people are those who have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease – they make up about 70 per cent of the cases.

‘After someone has had an amputation, they are referred to us.

‘Some people want a prosthetic limb, and some don’t.

‘We try to make it a one-stop clinic.

‘If a patient does want a prosthetic, we usually start making it that same day.

‘If the patient is local, then once the prosthesis is ready, they come back here for physiotherapy.

‘Otherwise they go to their local physiotherapy centre.

‘This is about giving people their independence back.

‘Losing a limb is life-changing, and you want to be as independent as you can be.

‘Some people can’t leave their house.

‘But for them it can make the difference of getting to the bathroom instead of using a commode.

‘Or they can go to the kitchen and fix themselves up with food – it’s just being able to look after yourself.’

A counselling service is also offered to help people deal with losing limbs, and support to family is also given.

The physiotherapy service within the centre is run by Solent NHS Trust.

Lynsey Matthews is a physiotherapist and explains the work undertaken.

She says: ‘We re-educate people to use their limbs for the first time.

‘Often there are challenges with balance – they need to learn how to put the prosthesis on and take it off, which can be quite complex.

‘People start by walking between two raised bars, which offer them support.

‘For people learning to use a lower limb, props such as ramps and stairs are used, to help people get used to the prosthetic.

‘We also take people outside, so they can get used to different surfaces.

‘We go on grass, on

uneven surfaces, and things you may face in everyday life.’

Through the centre, Paul got in contact with user group Moving Forward.

He went to the LimbPower Games, which were held at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, in Buckinghamshire, earlier this year.

Paul says: ‘I absolutely loved the games, and it gave me a chance to meet new people.

‘Without the user group I would’ve given up.

‘The games introduced me to archery, and I got a silver medal for table tennis.’

To find out more about the games, go to


WEARING his medals proudly, amputee Gene Oppenheimer ensures he remains as active as possible.

Mr Oppenheimer, 67, had his right arm amputated from below his elbow, in 1999, after developing a neuroma.

The former coach driver had his amputation in the midlands, which is also where he had his first prosthetic arm fitted.

But a few years ago, Mr Oppenheimer moved to Southampton to live with his daughter, and it was then he was introduced to the Disablement Centre, in St Mary’s Community Health Campus, Portsmouth.

He says: ‘This centre is the closest one for me to come and have my check-ups.

‘It’s here I was introduced to the LimbPower Games.’

The event introduces amputees to disability sports, and is held at the Stoke Mandeville Stadium, in Buckinghamshire.

This year Mr Oppenheimer won two medals.

He took home a gold in powerlifting, and a bronze in table tennis.

‘I have a hand and a hook prosthetic,’ he adds.

‘I use them so often I have the mechanism on them replaced quite a bit.

‘I don’t know what I did before 2009, when I was introduced to the games.

‘Without it, I would be doing nothing at all.

‘I have met so many new people, and the more things I do, the better I get, and the better I feel.’


HIS office features prosthetic arms and legs lining the wall and floor.

Sean Wood is operations manager for Ottobock – one of four private firms that provides prosthetic limbs to the NHS.

The Disablement Centre, in St Mary’s Community Health Campus, Milton Road, Milton, is one of 32 specialist limb centres in the country.

Sean explains the work that goes behind creating a prosthetic limb.

He says: ‘Any patient who comes into us goes through a multi-disciplinary team.

‘This involves seeing a physiotherapist, consultant, nurse and prosthetist.

‘The first thing we do is take a cast of the stump.

‘You then rectify the cast to the pressure points of the patient’s stump, so it will be more comfortable for them.

‘Then you start manufacturing the limb in the workshop.

‘It can take between five to 10 days for a leg to be made.

‘After this a patient can come in for repair works, or any modifications.

‘On average a limb can last anywhere between six to eight months, to three years.

‘It depends on the person’s mobility and how much they are doing.

‘Limbs can also vary in price. It can be anywhere in the region of £100, to £100,000.

Silicon parts are also done for parts like fingers.