Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The amazing crew of 14 ex-servicemen making history as the first all-amputee sailing crew

EXCLUSIVE by Sarah Arnold 21/02/2010

They have stared death in the face, been shot at, blown up by bombs and suffered terrible ­injuries in conflicts around the world.

They have all lost limbs but none of them have lost their fighting spirit.

Now the 14 ex-servicemen with just 15 legs between them are making history as the first all-amputee sailing crew to ­compete in one of the worlds most ­prestigious yacht races.

Last night the band of brothers were making final preparations in Antigua for the RORC Caribbean 600, an epic voyage that will push them to the limit. The crew range in age from 27 to 72 and hold ranks from private to colonel, but share an extraordinary bond which they describe as a fellowship of shared experience.

The gruelling challenge, which will take up to four days over 605 nautical miles, looping round the Caribbean, starts at 10am ­tomorrow.

To add to the ­pressure the boat, which has no special modifications to make it easier for them to control, had an eleventh-hour change of skipper after amputee Colin Rouse broke his remaining leg skiing and had to drop out. He lost his left leg eight years ago when a gas leak on a yacht caused an explosion.

Colin, 52, a former RAF engineer from Torquay, Devon, said: The guys who make up this ­extraordinary crew are heroes. This is an ­immense challenge for able-bodied people, let alone with the ­challenges these guys face every day.

"They have ­incredible grit and ­determination. They have fought for their country and now they are ­fighting for their future. The aim is to help them realise their ­potential.

Paul Burns, 48, from Nottingham, will now skipper the 65ft yacht called The ­Spirit of Juno, but ­nicknamed the ­allotment by the crew because they will have to dig deep to reach the finish line.

Paul, a former corporal in the ­Parachute Regiment, had his left leg ­amputated below the knee, lost part of his right foot and suffered horrific burns in the ­Warrenpoint Massacre, when 18 soldiers died in an IRA bomb attack near the border of the Irish Republic.

Paul said: It was August 27, 1979, at around 4.30pm and I was just 18. We were in a convoy going down to the border and there was a 500lb bomb by the side of the road. There was a huge blast and of the eight of us in our vehicle only two survived.

Then 25 minutes ­later there was a ­secondary device and that caught the rest of the guys who had been there to support and tend to us. Twelve more died and it was the biggest loss of life since the last war.

I lay where the blast had thrown me, burning and my body smashed. My left leg was amputated four days later. I spent two years in hospital and rehab.

Following his recovery Paul was posted to the Joint Services Parachute Centre to train as a rigger, maintaining and packing parachutes.

He has also done nearly 1,000 jumps, even parachuting with the Red Devils, before taking up sailing in 1985, with the British Limbless Ex-Servicemens Association, going on to join an all-­disabled crew for a round-the-world race.

He said: I really have lived these last 30 years. I have tried to inspire all around me and show the IRA they could not break me.

Paul, who owns a three-legged dog he calls Tripod, added: This will be the biggest sailing challenge of my life, skippering a boat and crew twice as big as anything I have done before in one of the top races in the world.

Many of the crew have suffered ­horrific injuries, but we see this as no barrier to them competing.

Ultimately they will cope better with day-to-day life because through this, they will face problems and find a way round them. But we are not just ­inspiring our own. We are inspiring all those around us.


Colin Hamilton, 33, is a sergeant in the 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of ­Scotland The Black Watch.The dad-of-two, who has served for 16 years, had an above-the-knee right leg amputation after ­trying to save a ­colleague who was electrocuted in 2001. He said: I returned to Iraq in 2004 and Im due in ­Afghanistan next year.


Dad-of-three Jase Evans, 37, from ­Norwich, was a ­sergeant vehicle ­mechanic in the ­Royal Electrical and ­Mechanical ­Engineers. He lost his right leg below the knee after a car crash in 2001. He said: The ­camaraderie gives you a boost. I ­recently went diving in Egypt and we took a chap who was blind. It was a privilege to be part of that.


Lee Menday, 50, from Holbrook, Suffolk, was a training ­instructor in the Royal Navy. He had a below-the-knee ­amputation of his left leg in 2005 due to sporting injuries ­dating back to 1983 when he was in the Falklands. I now have a sea leg, he said. As a teacher I want to be a good role ­model and these guys are helping me do it.

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Father-of-three Matt Goodwin, 43, from Wolverhampton, served with the ­Royal Marines HQ and ­Signals Squadron­

until he lost his right leg below the knee after falling from a building during an ­anti-terrorist training exercise in 1986.

He said: The injury made me lose my ­confidence. Now Im taking back ­control of my life.


Nigel Smith, 50, was a mechanic in the Royal Navy. His right leg was amputated in 1977 after he was hit by a drunk driver. He said: I learned to sail with Blesma, which opened the door to me ­circumnavigating the globe on an ­all-disabled boat. Our motto was Crossing the latitudes to change attitudes.

I cant think of ­anywhere better.


Granddad Paul ­Hagan, 48, from Leicester, was a petty officer in the Merchant Navy for 10 years. He had his left leg amputated in 1998. He said: I have fought my ­demons. Its knowing, my God, here I am, no use of my legs, but scudding through the waves purely by our own physical strength. We are living proof we are not beyond rehabilitation.


Dad-of-two Phil ­Aucott, 40, from ­Nottingham, was a corporal in the Royal Corps of Transport. His left leg was ­amputated above the knee after a ­motorbike accident in 1994. He said: It took a long time to get my head around. But I went on to coach able-bodied athletes, have played county cricket and gone rock climbing.


Steve Gill, 40, known as Big Daddy, from Leics, was a private with the 2nd ­Battalion the Royal Anglians. He lost both legs and his right eye in 1989, when an IRA bomb went off inside a beer barrel in Belfast. Steve said: If my ­children can see me doing what Im doing with half a body, I want them to think, ­Imagine what I could achieve.


Tom Higgins, 61, a father-of-three from Macclesfield served in the Army for four and a half years until his right leg was ­amputated above the knee in 1971 after an accident. Tom said: Ive become quite an experienced sailor with Blesma. It gives me a sense of freedom and competing against able-bodied crews is as good as it gets.


Wayne H Harrod, 40, from Melksham, Wilts, is a ­colour ­sergeant with 1st ­Battalion the Royal Anglian ­Regiment. He lost his left leg below the knee in 2004 after a training accident. He said: Losing my leg was just a glitch. Its the fifth time Ive sailed with these guys. We laugh that when we get on board theres plenty of leg room!


John Reeves, 49, from ­Guildford, Surrey, served in the 3rd ­Battalion The ­Parachute Regiment.He lost the sight in his right eye while setting up a booby trap with a faulty detonator in training in 1983. He said: There is a unique bond and there is a feeling of unity in making sure our ­injuries dont conquer or ­overwhelm us.


Johnathan Jono Lee, 27, from Newark, Notts, is a lance ­corporal in the 2nd Battalion The ­Yorkshire Regiment.He lost his right leg below the knee in Helmand province in 2007 after his Snatch ­Land ­Rover was blown up. He said: Ive been back to work for 12 months now and want to ­return to ­Afghanistan.

Paul Burns

The boats captain, Paul Burns, 48, from Nottingham, was a corporal in the Paras but lost his left leg in an IRA bombing. He took up sailing after nearly a thousand parachute jumps. He said: Parachuting, you have a piece of fabric to soar through the clouds. With a yacht the fabric helps you soar through the water so it was a natural progression.


The oldest crew member and Blesmas national chairman is Colonel Henry Hugh-Smith, 72, ex-commanding officer of the Blues and Royals and the Duke of Edinburghs former equerry. He lost his right arm after being shot in Northern Ireland. He said: It is a privilege to lead these men from serious injury to something they never realised they could do.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Amputee boy who is a little Billy Elliot

By Aidan Mcgurran 8/05/2009

Four-year-old boy takes up ballet after losing limbs through meningitis
Harvey Phillips, who lost both his legs and one arm after suffering from meningitis, has defied the odds to take up ballet lessons.

Published: 2:26PM BST 07 May 2009

The ballet classes have improved Harvey's posture and are also helping him walk on his new prosthetic limbs Photo: MASONS
Harvey, from Louth, Lincolnshire, had his lower legs, right arm and fingers on his left hand amputated in 2005 when he was just nine months-old.

His mother Lisa Phillips, 34, feared he would never be able to run around with friends or enjoy music and dance.

But Harvey proved her wrong after watching his older sister Kayla, five, at her local ballet class.

He was so determined to take part that he took to the dance floor without the aid of traditional prosthetic limbs.

Now he is able to run, jump and twirl using custom-made plastic caps to protect his legs.

The ballet classes have improved his posture and are also helping him walk on his new prosthetic limbs.

Mrs Phillips said Harvey has never been happier.

"He wants to try everything. He doesn't understand the meaning of the word 'no'," she said.

"He's in his element when he's being active and dancing. He's totally comfortable in his own body.

"And if he can't do things the way his friends do it, he'll find his own way of doing things. 'I'll do it my way,' he tells me.

"I'm so proud of him. I always knew he'd have to fight hard all his life but I'm happy in the knowledge that he's ready for that fight."

When he was three years-old doctors made a permanent incision across the palm of his left hand so he could hold his crayons, pens, toys and his spoon.

He was later enrolled in a mainstream school, where he has excelled – especially with his handwriting.

Harvey became so independent that he began going to weekly ballet classes last November, where he takes part with other able-bodied children his age.

He now dances on 'stump caps' rather than his full-sized prosthetic legs, which he says gets in the way.

Harvey's dance teacher, Nicky Wright, of Studio 2000, in Louth, said Harvey was coping well with her lessons.

"We were all a little bit apprehensive when he first started and we've been very careful about how we were describing things," she said.

"We knew it would be a challenge but I think we've found ways to overcome these things by exaggerating the use of the head.

"I think he's coping nicely. He smiles continuously so he must be OK with everything."

Harvey will always need a one-to-one helper at school, but Lisa said he is becoming more independent every day.

"The name Harvey means battleworthy, and that's exactly what his is," she added.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Haiti amputees face dire quest for prosthetics

JoNel Aleccia
Health writer

Prosthetics groups promise help in a land where disability can mean death

Jon Warren
Doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital in Jimani, Dominican Republic, had to amputate 4-year-old Schneily Similien’s lower leg because of injuries suffered in the Haiti earthquake. His father, Ducarmel Similien, says he will do whatever it takes to get a prosthetic leg for his boy.

Haiti struggles to recover
The island is devastated by a deadly earthquake and dozens of aftershocks.
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How to help

List of charities, organizations
Click here for a list of links to relief organizations and discuss ways you can help those in need in Haiti.
By JoNel Aleccia
Health writer
updated 5:30 a.m. PT, Thurs., Jan. 28, 2010


By the time 4-year-old Schneily Similien’s parents got him to a doctor, it was too late to save his left leg.

The Haitian boy was hurt in the Jan. 12 magnitude-7 earthquake that killed at least 200,000 people and injured at least that many more. As the ground shook his family’s Port-au-Prince home, pieces of concrete ceiling came down on Schneily and his mother, Darline Similien, a 37-year-old kindergarten teacher. One large chunk crushed the child’s leg.

But after five days of searching in vain for medical care, the family had to travel to Good Samaritan Hospital in Jimani, about 45 miles away in the Dominican Republic. There, doctors had to choose between preserving the boy’s limb — or saving his life.

“I would rather have my son with one leg than to not have my son at all,” Schneily’s father, Ducarmel Similien, a 40-year-old carpenter, said through an interpreter for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization who relayed the story to World Vision workers have been providing basic supplies to quake victims and volunteering in medical clinics at the Haitian border.

Jon Warren
“I would rather have my son with one leg than to not have my son at all,” said Ducarmel Similien. He and Scott McGough, a volunteer physical therapist from Dallas, steady 4-year-old Schneily Similien’s as he learns to walk on crutches.

Schneily is among growing numbers of earthquake amputees created by the disaster. Estimates of amputations have varied dramatically — from a few thousand to more than 110,000, according to agency reports. There's no reliable count amid the chaos so far, but even the most conservative disaster workers say more than 75 people a day have lost limbs since the quake, either because of initial injuries or because of secondary infections and gangrene.

“This is already an unusually high number of amputations even for this kind of an earthquake,” said Wendy Batson, executive director of Handicap International, an aid group with global experience helping amputees and other disabled people. Her organization expects to see as many as 4,000 amputees when final counts are done.

In past quakes of similar magnitude, amputees have numbered in the hundreds, not in the thousands, Batson said. But the carnage in Port-au-Prince has been worse, partly because the quake was centered near the city of 2 million, partly because of erratic building construction standards, and partly because so many health and aid agencies were destroyed by the tremors.

Largest-ever loss of limbs?
The rising toll has triggered a call to action for prosthetics manufacturers and suppliers and amputee advocates in the U.S., who say the incident may represent the largest-ever loss of limbs in a single natural disaster.

“We’ve seen many amputees, but nowhere near the magnitude of this,” said Ivan R. Sabel, chairman of Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, the largest supplier in the U.S. “These folks are going to need ongoing care.”

Already, aid groups are raising money, collecting donations of used prosthetics and making plans to send teams of doctors, limb fitters and physical therapists to Haiti.

Last weekend, more than 300 cars loaded with wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and artificial limbs lined up in a parking lot at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where organizers for the agency Physicians for Peace collected the mobility devices to be refurbished and sent to Haiti, said Ron Sconyers, the group’s president and chief executive.

“A gentleman came by and had tears in his eyes,” recalled Sconyers. “He said, ‘My wife died last month; this is her wheelchair. I know it will help someone have a better life.’”

On the ground in Port-au-Prince, Healing Hands for Haiti, a non-governmental organization with a decade of experience in the country, may be forced to rapidly double or triple its capacity to provide help for a disabled population that numbered 800,000 even before the quake.

“We’re going as fast as our feet can carry us,” said Eric Doubt, the agency’s executive director.

Helping Haiti amputees
Some groups aiding quake victims:
Handicap International: Co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for work with land mine victims, the agency conducts 250 programs in 60 countries. The group has been working in Haiti since 2008.
Amputee Coalition of America: Provides resources and education for amputees in the U.S. and around the world.
Healing Hands for Haiti: Aid agency has worked for more than a decade providing help for 800,000 disabled Haitians.
Physicians for Peace: Provides medical education and training in developing countries, including Haiti.
Prosthetic Center of Excellence in Las Vegas, Nevada is accepting used braces, bracing, orthotics, as well as prosthetics and will ship to a clearing house in Haiti.
American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association: National trade association of manufacturers and suppliers of braces and artificial limbs.
Prosthetics Outreach Foundation: Helps amputees in the developing world gain mobility.
Legs for All: LeTourneau University program that helps clinics in developing countries produce inexpensive, durable prosthetics locally.
Limbs for Life Foundation: Helping re-establish prosthetic supply and distribution for Haiti in the Dominican Republic.

Healing first, then prosthetics
It’s still too early for earthquake victims to receive artificial limbs, said Pat Chelf, a board member for the Amputee Coalition of America, an education and advocacy group. Under the best circumstances, amputation injuries take a month or more to heal, and the conditions in Haiti are anything but the best.

Some patients had limbs sheared by the force of collapsed buildings or falling debris. Others had to sacrifice arms and legs when rescuers couldn’t free them any other way. Others lost fractured limbs because infection set in before they could be properly repaired.

In some cases, emergency operations were performed with chainsaws, with none of the usual thought about preserving nerves, flesh and function.

“There’s no way that these people had their surgical intervention optimized,” Chelf said.

From initial fittings and supply of prosthetics to ongoing adjustments, repairs and replacements, the demand for artificial limbs will be intense, expensive — and long-lasting, said Chelf.

Each device could cost between $4,000 and $6,000 per amputee, Chelf estimated. In the U.S., a new amputee can expect a minimum of four fittings a year to make sure the device is comfortable and works properly. In addition, several physical therapy sessions are necessary to help patients learn to adjust the way they walk and other body movements to use the new limbs.

“You have to be taught to use the device,” Chelf said. “You don’t just put it on and go.”

Some groups plan to make it easier and cheaper for amputees in Haiti and other developing countries to get limbs by setting up small shops where prosthetics can be made locally instead of being sent from abroad.

“For us, the issue is, when we walk away from this, it’s a long-lasting effect,” said Roger Gonzalez, executive director of Legs for All, a prosthetics development project at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.

An engineering professor, Gonzalez has created a durable, easy-to-make artificial leg that is fashioned of hard plastic and can be repaired with nuts and bolts from a hardware store. It costs about $15 to make, compared to about $2,000 for the cheapest leg in the U.S., and it can withstand the rugged geography and the dirt, heat and humidity of a place like Haiti.

“You have to have a knee that’s pretty robust,” says Gonzalez, who already operates programs in Sierra Leone, Bangladesh and Senegal.

Disabled can become pariahs
Making prosthetics cheap, repairable and widely available will be the only way to prevent Haitian amputees from becoming additional casualties of the killer quake. In a country where life is harsh at best, the disabled are often regarded as economic burdens and social pariahs, said Eric Doubt of Healing Hands for Haiti.

“The disabled and handicapped are pretty much neglected and abandoned,” he said.

That’s a view echoed by Schneily Similien’s father, who is just starting to contemplate his son’s future.

“There is a stigma with losing a limb; people tend not to take into account the needs of disabled people and it changes your life,” Ducarmel Similien told World Vision. “They don’t consider you a whole person.”

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Acquiring replacement limbs may well be a matter of survival for children like Schneily as well as adults who lost arms or legs in the earthquake’s aftermath. Doctors in Jimani have told Schneily’s parents it could take up to three months to acquire a prosthetic leg for the boy. The parents say they’ll do whatever it takes to get one.

“I don’t want to think about the difficulties he might face right now,” the child’s father said. “He will have to work hard, but it’s already done. We just have to accept it and move on.”

© 2010