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The power of peer support

As a 14-year-old, Trent was an outgoing and adventurous teenager. On a Sunday afternoon in June 2008, his life took a sudden turn for the worst. What was meant to be a fun day out with friends and family, ended up being the start of a ten-year battle with pain, isolation, depression, and anger.

Trent and his mother Leonie headed out to meet family and friends for a picnic at a remote property in Somerville, southeast of Melbourne. “I was excited. It was always fun catching up with my cousins and friends,” Trent shared. “There was a motorbike on the property and we were all allowed to take turns on the bike. It was so much fun!” Trent said.

“When I got onto the motorbike it flipped. The bike landed on my right leg, crushing it badly. I thought that I had hurt my knee, but I couldn’t tell where the pain was coming from,” Trent shared. Trent’s mum, Leonie, took him to Frankston hospital to be assessed. The x-rays showed a break in his tibia (shin) bone. In order to keep the bone in place and to stop it from moving the doctors applied a plaster cast. “It was a complete cast from my hip all the way down to my ankle. The doctors put the cast on prior to my leg starting to swell. The problem was that the swelling had nowhere to go and the cast became very tight. It was like a tourniquet,” Trent explained.

As the result of the premature cast, Trent developed compartment syndrome, a condition sometimes caused when a plaster cast or tight bandages are applied to an injury before the swelling has stopped, or when the cast is put on too tightly.

After two weeks of agonising pain, Trent returned to the hospital to have his cast changed, but unfortunately for him things were going to get worse before they got better. When doctors split the cast, they discovered large black pressure sores on his leg.

“I remember he had two large pressure sores, one on the back of his heel and another under his pinkie toe. The sores were the size of a 50 cent coin. For two years Trent was unable to walk or weight-bear on his leg while waiting for the pressure sores to heal,” Leonie described.

During the two years that followed, Trent was constantly in and out of hospital while the doctors tried to repair his leg. At this point Trent had also developed foot-drop, meaning he had no strength in his foot. Trent had physiotherapy sessions, underwent MRI scans, and a total of eight operations on his Achilles tendon to try and raise his foot. Trent also endured several nerve conduction tests to measure the muscle response in his leg. “I found the nerve conduction tests to be very painful,” Trent recalled. Leonie agreed, highlighting that “they put long needles into the muscle and administered an electric current to test the nerves and strength of the muscle. This was excruciatingly painful for him.”

Despite all of these procedures and therapies Trent was still not very mobile. His leg wasn’t recovering at all. It was so severely damaged that the cartilage and scar tissue around the bone became stronger than the bone itself. The lack of activity and muscle waste had reduced the size of his leg to the size of a child’s arm.

Due to Trent’s physical condition, Trent began to withdraw from friends and family. He became isolated and depressed. “I hated looking at my leg. I was embarrassed about it. I would even hide it from myself. I hated that everyone was doing things for me. I felt helpless,’’ Trent shared.

Although they had faced so many setbacks and disappointments, Leonie wasn’t ready to give up on a better future for her son. Eventually Leonie contacted Limbs 4 Life to talk about Trent’s options and voiced her concerns for her son. Trent was still young, but he was spiralling downward and not getting any better. Leonie agreed to a visit from a Peer Support Volunteer so that Trent could consider other options.

Limbs 4 Life matched Trent up with someone of a similar age so he could speak about amputation; a volunteer who had also made the decision to amputate his leg after years of trying and waiting for it to heal. Trent was matched with Mike. Mike had contracted meningococcal some 16 years prior and was a bilateral lower limb amputee.

“When I first met Trent, I could see someone with an amazing spirit and thirst for life. Trent was someone who was in a bad way. He didn’t know how to find his way out of his current situation and/or what his options were,” Mike recalled.

Meeting Mike changed Trent’s life. Trent had never met another amputee and meeting Mike gave him an enormous boost in motivation. “When I first met with Mike, I was stunned to see how active he was. He was confident walking on his prostheses. I learned that Mike worked, played golf, had positive relationships with friends and basically had a love of life. At the time I thought to myself, wow this guy is walking better than me and he has both legs missing,” Trent explained.

“Meeting with Mike was extremely valuable to me. He shared his story about the way his first amputation came about and how he made the decision to amputate his second leg to improve his quality of life,’’ Trent recalled.

It was after this that Trent elected to have a below-knee amputation. A decision he doesn’t regret. And he is enormously grateful to Mike for helping him to come to this decision and the ongoing relationship they have built.

Limbs 4 Life is extremely grateful to Trent, Leonie and Mike for sharing their individual stories and powerful impact that peer support had. We are pleased that peer support not only helped Trent in his amputation decision, but led to a long-lasting friendship with his fellow ‘amputee peer’ Mike.

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